David F. Friedman, a pioneering producer of exploitation fare like Blood Feast and Ilsa: She-Wolf Of The SS and a blessed panderer to people’s baser desires, has died of a heart attack. He was 87.
The New York Times has a thorough obituary that we can’t really add much to, other than to point out that the world of cinema would be much less fun were it not for Friedman’s influence. In the 1960s, Friedman partnered with director Herschell Gordon Lewis and set about bringing a sense of gleeful naughtiness to an occasionally stuffy industry, beginning with their series of “nudie-cuties” like Goldilocks And The Three Bares, films that featured naked or nearly-naked women frolicking for no good reason other than the fact they were naked and there was a camera there to capture it. They eventually moved on to create what many call the first “splatter film,” 1963’s Blood Feast, which took those naked women and fed them to an Egyptian caterer who really enjoyed chopping their heads off. Friedman, ever the showman, marketed the film by supplying theaters with vomit bags to hand out to their customers, and sending out a trailer that actually warned audience members with heart conditions to leave the theater while it was on.
Another example of Friedman’s awesome craziness: 1964’s drive-in classic Two Thousand Maniacs!, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know right there in the title. The sickest film ever to be loosely based on Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon (really), Maniacs! concerns a group of Northern tourists lured to the south as the guests of honor at a celebration commemorating the day Union troops destroyed the town. What they find when they get there are a bunch of rednecks still angry about the outcome of the Civil War, and who then proceed to take it out on the Yankees by dismembering them with an ax and having horses tear them apart. But ‘twas all in good fun.
Friedman was also a pioneer of the Nazi exploitation genre, producing Love Camp 7 and the legendary Ilsa: She-Wolf Of The SS. Filmed on the old Hogan’s Heroes set (true story!), Ilsa starred Dyanne Thorne as a buxom commander of a Nazi Stalag who tortures women and rapes her male prisoners, castrating them if they dare to ejaculate. Unsurprisingly, it’s loomed large in the cult film community ever since, inspiring tributes such as Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women Of The S.S. trailer in Grindhouse, and might very well be playing on the muted TV screens of a dive bar near you right now.
Friedman never took himself too seriously—as he takes pains to point out in his 1990 autobiography, A Youth In Babylon: Confessions Of A Trash-Film King—although he did balk at following sexploitation’s transformation into hardcore porn, still believing in his credo, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” (“The steak” being penetration and the like.) But while his output began to slow somewhat in the late 1970s, his legend only continued to grow, thanks in no small part to Seattle’s Something Weird Video, which began reissuing his work in the ’90s and calling upon him to provide audio commentaries for some of its releases. The NYT obit has a great quote from Something Weird’s Mike Vraney that all but sums up Friedman’s approach to his career and his life: “He partied like an animal. He ate huge meals, drank and smoked enormous cigars. He lived with gusto.”