I watched a shitload of Herschel Gordon Lewis movies and fell in love with the man, despite not necessarily loving his movies. But today, that may change.
In his introduction to Just For the Hell of It on the HGL Feast Box Set from Arrow Films, Herschel claims the film was “made only because I felt it was time to make a movie”. While I can’t imagine any of his other films were made for a better reason than that, that’s not a good reason to make a movie, and this film is the definitive evidence of that. He then puts the final nail in his own coffin (so to speak, RIP good sir) when he finishes his introduction with “So here’s a movie, Just For the Hell of It, you might wanna watch just for the hell of it, and say to yourself while you look at it ‘Hey, they had a good time making this, didn’t they?’” What follows is a movie of nihilistic wanton destruction and an excessive amount of rape, apparently all in the name of a “good time”. Forget the fact that if the best thing you can say about a movie is “it looks like they had fun” it’s probably not a very good movie – I find it very upsetting that ol’ HGL refuses to reckon with his own crass sensibilities.
This movie is sort of just a male version She-Devils on Wheels, featuring a gang of guys that just bums around a Florida town literally destroying everything in their path. The very first scene takes place at a house party that quickly devolves into all of the guests smashing every single piece of furniture into tiny bits, throwing them through windows and tearing down the walls. And that’s not the only time they just completely wreak havoc on a set, as later in the film they destroy a diner after really long fist fight (that scene is actually pretty entertaining). There are multiple montages where these young men just wander around town preying on innocent victims, going so far as to steal a baby out of woman’s carriage and put the baby in a trash can (and it is a real baby really placed in a can full of trash). This movie is insane, and were it not for the multiple rapes, including one where they invite highschoolers to a party, drug them, and then take photos of them to use for blackmail, it might be some semblance of entertaining. But it is too despicable, and trying to pass that awful bullshit off as fun to even try to rationalize its entertainment value just isn’t possible.
It does have the classic HGL foot chase ending complete with a cop saying the title out loud – “Why son? Just for the hell of it? Just for kicks?” And that is, of course, followed by a moralistic title card, which HGL loves to use to try and cushion his crass sense of humor. This film ends with a card that says “THE END of this story… but not of violence!” as if this movie is a protest film of some kind. I’ve really wavered in my judgment of Herschel over the course of this series, but this is the movie that pushed it over the edge for me – he’s a scummy man that made scummy movies, some of which I enjoy, some of which are middling at best, and most of which are reprehensible. I reserve the right to enjoy any of the few movies I have left to watch in the set (I’m particularly excited to get to The Wizard of Gore) but I think I’ve made peace with disliking HGL. Some stand outs like Color Me Blood Red aside, his filmography is essentially just a series of red flags.
And truly you could say this is the film that proves my own thesis the most, as it has a complete lack of gore, replaced instead by poorly choreographed fights, utter mayhem in the form of set destruction, and a carelessly violent attitude towards women – Splatter apparently Matters, especially to Herschel, because without it all we’re left with is a window into his brain that should be locked shut.