The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
Herschell Gordon Lewis has become a staple of my October Horror Movie Challenges, for better or worse. I started out by reviewing Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs! and The Wizard of Gore, each of which had a strange charm to their primitive, blood-drenched delirium. Last year, however, I watched the deeply mean-spirited The Gore Gore Girls, which I found a thoroughly unpleasant experience. That left me wondering whether I wanted to give up on Lewis, but I decided that the good had outweighed the bad so far.
So, here we are with The Gruesome Twosome, giving Lewis one more shot.
The Gruesome Twosome is currently available on Shudder in the UK.
Mrs Pringle, her adult son, Rodney, and their stuffed cat, Napoleon, run a rooming house/wig shop in a college town. The wig business is booming as girls from the college like cutting their hair short then wearing wigs when they want to look glamorous. Happily, Mrs Pringle has a solution for keeping up with demand — murder!
When young women come to look at the room she supposedly has for rent, she locks them in with the homicidal Rodney, who carves them up and scalps them. Their harvested hair then becomes new wigs.
When one of her dorm mates goes missing after a visit to the Pringle residence, self-styled detective Kathy starts sniffing around.
And, um, that’s about it. Don’t expect any more than this.
The character of Rodney has not aged well. Having a young man with learning difficulties as a serial killer isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but the portrayal of the character as a semi-coherent, babbling man-child is not a good look. I found myself wincing every time he appeared.
His mother, Mrs Pringle, fares a little better. Her constant asides to her stuffed cat are pretty much the only fun you’re going to get out of this film.
Even if no one told you The Gruesome Twosome was made in the late ’60s, you would still know at once. Everything about it is almost offensively groovy, from the hip slang to the college girls’ habit of punctuating expository conversations with impromptu dance parties.
From a technical perspective, this is pretty much on a par with HGL’s other films. The gore is cheap-looking, mixing terrible makeup with real animal viscera. While the sound isn’t the worst I’ve heard in his films, it varies drastically from scene to scene, rendering some dialogue almost impossible to decode. And the film has exactly the kind of wooden, porn-quality acting you might expect. All of these factors usually add to the appeal of a Lewis production, but here the lack of content makes them stand out even more.
Ultimately, we watch Herschell Gordon Lewis films for their proto-splatter movie excesses. Sadly, this is where The Gruesome Twosome is weakest. There are only four brief set pieces in this slog of a film, and three of them are almost exactly the same. Rodney does change weapon for each kill, but otherwise the scenes are interchangeable. In a film where almost nothing else happens, falling down on the gore sequences is fatal.
One thing I never imagined Herschell Gordon Lewis could be was dull, but that is exactly how I would describe The Gruesome Twosome. While it’s certainly a step up from the incoherent misogyny of The Gore Gore Girls, it still has little to recommend it.
There isn’t really much of a story, not that Lewis generally needed one, but this is pitifully thin even by his standards. But what makes The Gruesome Twosome egregious is that the script doesn’t even work as a framework for presenting its gory set-pieces. Part of this is certainly because there aren’t actually many of Lewis’s them. But worse, the framework is so blatantly and clumsily padded that it feels wildly overlong at 72 minutes.
To give you some idea of how padded it is, the film includes a rambling conversation between two mannequin heads, a long narrative dead-end where Kathy follows the college janitor home, a weird interlude at a drive-in where we watch an absurdist comedy about crisps and domestic violence, two impromptu dance parties, and a long scene of stock car racing. For a gory exploitation film, there isn’t actually much gore, or much film for that matter.
Lewis clearly thought he was making a comedy, even more than usual, and there are some funny moments. The problem is that any even mildly amusing scene is drawn out for so long that the joke peters out and we are left staring at its corpse.
While I didn’t hate The Gruesome Twosome, I found little to enjoy in it. The few moments of entertainment it offers don’t justify spending another hour watching filler. If you fancy some schlocky. gory fun this Halloween, pick a different HGL film.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!