“Scum of the Earth” (1963)
Studio: Box Office Spectaculars
Starring: Thomas Wood, Allison Louise Downe, Lawrence J. Aberwood, Sandra Sinclair, Mal Arnold
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 73 min.
Synopsis: A young woman starts to do some innocent modeling, but the group turns out to be running a pornography ring and force her to pose nude.
Before Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman made horror history with the debut of their film Blood Feast, that introduced the splatter film, they made a number of other films which mostly were nudie cuties, but in-between those and their gore films they made a picture called Scum of the Earth. Now this film is neither a gore film nor a nudie one, but it has more in common with a nudie film because of its content, which happens to be a pornography ring.
The film written and directed by Lewis (under the name Lewis H. Gordon) and produced by Friedman (under the name Davis Freeman) is about a small photography business that takes nude pictures of women (some are shot alone and others are shot with other women and men) that are sold to high school, college students, and any horny men. This movie also features a number of cast members from Blood Feast such as Thomas Wood (aka William Kerwin) who played Det. Pete Thornton in Blood Feast and Mal Arnold, Fuad Ramses himself. Wood (who is billed as Thomas Sweetwood) plays Harmon, a scummy photographer who takes the pictures of all the girls. In the film, I guess they were trying to make him look older by putting white on the sides of his hair, but it made his head look like a skunk. In most of Lewis’ films Wood plays the lead good guy and in this one his character is a bit edger, but he plays it like his others and he turns out to be not the scumbag you think he is and winds up the hero. Arnold is a far cry from Fuad, who plays a punk high school student who looks a little old to be a teenager, who works for the porno racket and sells the pictures to his classmates.
One model, Sandy (played by Sandra Sinclair, who is the first victim of Fuad in Blood Feast) is tired of posing nude and wants to get out of the business. The owner of the business, Mr. Lang (played by Lawrence J. Aberwood) is reluctant in letting her get out of the biz, but tells her if she can recruit other girls to pose than she can get out. Sandy finds a girl, Kim (played by Allison Louise Downe) and introduces her to Harmon. The two con her into to thinking they run a professional photography business and they need her to model shoes. It does first start off with shoes, than bathing suits, now Kim wants to do more because the money is so good. Harmon mentions another job to her, but tells her she may not like it. He tells her its nude modeling for $500. At first she can’t do it, but the money could help her pay for college tuition in the fall. She does the modeling and Harmon assures her that it will be tasteful and they won’t see her face, but what Kim doesn’t know is that she walked into a big scam that she will regret being involved.
Scum of the Earth in some ways is different from other Lewis and Friedman films I’ve seen, mostly because this is the first Lewis film I’ve seen that was shot in black and white and minus the gore, but the film also still has that Herschell charm that he brings to the style of all his movies. Both this film and Blood Feast came out the same year and I believe this was shot right before Blood Feast being that the two films were shot in Miami and some of the scenes were shot at the same Suez Motel that was used in Blood Feast. Cast members and locations wasn’t the only thing in common with Blood Feast, the same music score was used as well except for the main theme of Blood Feast with the pounding drum.
The film is not a cult classic like Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, or The Wizard of Gore, but Scum of the Earth is a good film. It does have a fare share of wooden acting, mostly from the actresses in the film, but for the most part the lead actors in the film like Wood and Aberwood do a good job in their roles. Wood always is the stand out actor in any Herschell film and Aberwood gives an unforgettable speech that is played on any Something Weird Video promotional videos. In a scene where Aberwood’s character Lang is talking to Kim claiming he can help her get out of the mess that she’s in. Lang first starts off nice as he talks to her. Then he goes into a rage and starts to lecture her. The camera goes to an extreme close-up of his mouth as he shouts out, “You girls act like little Miss Muffett, but deep down inside you’re dirty!” and “You listen, and you listen well. You’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” It’s a great scene in the film and Aberwood pulls it off.
Most of the film reminds me of those wacked-out anti-drug films of the 1930’s like the cult classic Reefer Madness. The film has the same type of vibe that those films have. Someone innocent gets mixed up into something bad and gets in too deep and they can’t get themselves out. Those themes are very strong in Scum of the Earth. The gritty black and white helps the film look seedier and many of the cast play great scumbags. There’s one scene where Kim is modeling in the nude for the first time and she thinks Harmon is the only one there shooting her, but Mal Arnold’s character is in the back taking some of his own pictures of her. She is unaware of this because of the blinding lights in the studio. Here you see the voyeuristic tendencies from the characters that are taking advantage of this woman.
There’s even a part where Kim’s father is talking to her about her modeling. This is before she did the nude pictures. She keeps bragging about Harmon and her father says to her, “Don’t forget about the other man in your life, me.” Then he later asks to see some of the pictures she’s been taking. She tells him she can’t ask Harmon for them. Then he asks if she’s taking any improper photos. She tells him no, even though at that time she was taking pictures in swimsuits. The tone in which that the dad asks these things are kind of creepy. Like he wants to see photos of his daughter posing or he’s fantasizing about it or something, it’s just a little creepy.
Although the women are posing nude, you never get to see anything on film. All the shots when the women are undressed are from the back or at a close-up of their face or they are some scenes where the women are covering up their breasts with their arms. They are a few nip slips here and there but nothing too big. It’s interesting that there’s no skin in this film, when Lewis and Friedman’s previous works were all nudie cutie films. I’m wondering if they avoid it to try to get this film into more theaters. This was also the time when they were getting out of the nude film business and was trying something different.
Also, here’s some interesting Herschell facts, Downe, who plays Kim (billed as Vickie Miles in the film) also starred in other Lewis films such Boin-n-g, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Suburban Roulette. She also worked behind the camera and co-wrote Blood Feast, She-Devils on Wheels, and many others and assisted directed on A Taste of Blood, Wizard of Gore, The Gore, Gore Girls and a few others.
This lost gem from the team of Lewis and Friedman right before they made film history in inventing the gore film is an entertaining film that is a must see for any Herschell or Dave Friedman fan. It’s an interesting look at the pornography photography business in the early 1960’s. One last thought about the film that I noticed when watching is that there’s a chase scene with the police at the end of the film that is very similar to Blood Feast where the police are on foot chasing the bad guy running through Miami. I guess the Miami Police didn’t have squad cars and had to apprehend everyone by foot, just a funny thought. Scum of the Earth is a great film for your Lewis/Friedman collection.