Break out the barf bag 

David F. Friedman continues to perfect the art of bad movies

David F. Friedman's impact on the shadow history of exploitation film cannot be overestimated. Still red-blooded, steak-eating and girl-ogling at the age of 77, Friedman is one of the last of a special breed of men who profited from audiences' insatiable greed for bare breasts, disembowelment, girls in prison, half-wit hillbillies and every shade of perversity and jiggling flesh in between.

Friedman cut his lowbrow film teeth on the creaky 1944 morality tale Mom and Dad, a cautionary tale of teen pregnancy featuring an actual, real-life glimpse of childbirth purloined from a medical film company. This "sex hygiene" film, one of scores made in the '30s and '40s, excelled at separating, in Friedman's terms, "slack-jawed seekers of cinema salaciousness" from their entertainment dollar. But the real beauty of the thing was not in its making, but in its exhibition. "Just like an itinerant carnival," Friedman says, the exploiteers traveled with the films loaded into their car trunks, serving as distributor, ad man, emcee and "educational authority" all in one.

Friedman's current home base is the sleepy, seemingly sensation-free burg of Anniston, Ala., where he is the secretary of the Calhoun County Fair. He continues to collect royalties on his old films, travels to L.A. three or four times a year, has written the book Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King and has made six documentaries on the exploitation phenomenon for the BBC, AMC and E! And in the world of outre cinema, he is veritable royalty, giving eager young cinephiles a taste of the good old bad old days.

Very few men in their hell-raisingest days can boast of the wild times enjoyed by David Friedman. And he is still shilling gore, sin and sex to audiences, though these days it's in-the-know cult movie types, the "nostalgia redux" crowd, Friedman notes in his characteristically avuncular way. A charismatic, amiable veteran of the exploitation film business, Friedman is the kind of old-school man's-man retro-loving guys surely envision in their nostalgic daydreams, an unapologetically girl-crazy fun-lover who would never obsess about cholesterol or wonder if his films had a negative impact on society.

On Aug. 19 Friedman will bring his mondo brand of showmanship live and in-person to the Starlight Six Drive-In for a double feature of two of the many films that made him a "Sultan of Sleaze," Blood Feast and She Freak. She Freak combines Friedman's interest in carnivals with his flair for the (figuratively) carnivalesque exploitation cinema. A loose remake of Tod Browning's 1932 shocker Freaks, which imprinted itself on Friedman's receptive psyche when he was 9, the producer says "that picture left a lasting impression on me. And I always hoped to one day redo it ..." This 1967 film stars Claire Brennen as a bewitching carny tramp who incurs the wrath of the show folk.

Like Mom and Dad, which saw a second life on the burgeoning drive-in circuit, Blood Feast and She Freak were films tailor-made for the drive-in crowd. "Drive-ins didn't particularly go for heavy drama or big Hollywood musicals," says Friedman, who will be appearing at one of the last big city drive-ins still operating in the country. "They wanted action; juvenile delinquent pictures, car crashes and things ..."

In a kinder, gentler America, where salacious teens and their sweaty-palmed parents enjoyed tales of juvenile delinquents and teenage promiscuity served in the al fresco scandal-pots of the local drive-in, Friedman and his cohorts gave these sin-hounds something to really bite into. His reputation-making collaboration with legendary exploitation mack-daddy Herschell Gordon Lewis composed the second phase of Friedman's illustrious career. After Mom and Dad, and tired of the countless nudie cutie films churned out in its wake, Herschell and Friedman asked themselves, "What can we do that nobody else has ever done?"

"Something in bad taste ..." Friedman laughs. "And out of that conversation came a four letter word: gore."

And it was bad. Very bad.

Inaugurating the genre, Lewis directed the 1963 cult hit Blood Feast -- a canny carny combination of babes and entrails. Friedman produced it and, in the cut-rate manner of the C-movie business, also served as its soundman. Together the two men are credited by many with inventing the "gore" film, the tadpole that would one day become a rain of hoptoads upon the land in the form of the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Scream franchises. Now the illustrious pair are back at the drawing board, making another tale of homicidal exotics and pretty young girls shellacked in red.

Friedman speaks about his upcoming Atlanta appearance from a cell phone on a film set in Abita Springs, La.. In this town just north of New Orleans, he and Lewis are filming Blood Feast 2, a sinewy sequel in which Fuad Ramses' grandson comes back to the town and "continues his diabolical deeds."

"Over the years, Herschell and I have been approached a score of times by people wanting to remake Blood Feast. And all of them either had an idea but no money or had money but no idea," chuckles Friedman.

The reunion couldn't have come at a better time for Friedman. "My wife just passed away three months ago. So this chance to work with Herschell again after 37 years was a godsend because he is a man whose wit sparkles. He and I get along very well, bantering words back and forth."

That diabolical duo's original Blood Feast was a tale of a beautiful young blonde named Suzette (Connie Mason), an Egyptian catering business run by homicidal cook Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), some grisly murders, cannibalistic buffets and gallons of blood. In keeping with the cult reputation since established with that film, Blood Feast 2 is produced by Bully's Jacky Lee Morgan and features a cameo by that outre film fan himself, John Waters.

And reprising the Connie Mason role is a "very, very beautiful little girl," Friedman waxes lascivious to describe the female pulchritude of the film's Gulf Shores, Ala., star Toni Wynn. At an age when most men would be refining their golf games and watching "Rockford Files" reruns on TV, Friedman's heart still pumps the carbonated blood of the inveterate showman, which races to the heart-quickening thrill of more money, and more fun to be made from the dirty business of bad movies.

Starlight Six Drive-In presents Mondo Movie Nite Aug. 19, featuring Blood Feast and She Freak. Producer David F. Friedman will attend. 2000 Moreland Ave. 404-627-5786. Gates open at 8 p.m.

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    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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