Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Phil remembers David F. Friedman, The King Of Exploitation Cinema-June 14, 2011

On February 14, 2011, while everyone was celebrating Valentine's Day, I was busy working (my day job is in sales). After a long day at work, I went on the internet to see what movies were playing. As soon as I logged on, I saw a headline that completely took me by surprise. There, in bold, black lettering, the headline read: Exploitaion Film Producer David F. Friedman Dies at 87. At first, I couldn't believe it. I had to reread the headline at least four time before it finally sunk in. Today is the four month anniversary of Friedman's passing, and since I didn't have my movie blog at the time of his death, I thought it would be nice to look back on one of the most important figures in cinematic history.

David F. Friendman (1923-2011)
Friedman was born in Birmingham, Alabama on December 24, 1923. His father was a local newspaper man and his mother was a musician. His father passed away when he was 13 and his mother remarried a couple of years later. After graduating from high school, he was drafted into the Army and was sent over to England during World War II. Upon returning home after his discharge in 1945, he settled in Chicago, where he got married and found a job working at Essanjay Films, and soon for Paramount in their publicity department. But in 1949, fate stepped when he met exploitation pioneer Howard "Kroger" Babb. Soon he was working for him, parading around Babb's most infamous film MOM AND DAD (which by the way is part of the National Film Registry). It was a carny's life for Friedman, making nudie cuties and nudist colony films and roadshowing them all across the country.

Original Movie Poster (1963)
After his apprenticeship with Babb's ended, Friedman met another filmmaker who would also change his life forever. Herschell Gordon Lewis (known as the Godfather of Gore) teamed up with Friedman to make nudie cuties. Seeing the genre coming to an end though, they came up with an idea of doing something completely different. In 1963, their co-production of BLOOD FEAST ushered in the age of gore films, which was unheard of at the time. The film cost about $25,000 and it went on to earn over $3 million dollars at the boxoffice. Two other films followed: 1964's TWO THOUSAND MANIACS and 1965's  COLOR ME BLOOD RED, both continuing the bloodshed that still is today a part of the language of horror films. Without the "Blood Trilogy" we wouldn't have films such as FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE EVIL DEADHOSTEL, GRINDHOUSE, and the SAW series. Make no mistake, these films changed the world of cinema forever, and both men will forever be associated with creating the look of horror.

Original Movie Poster (1965)
After his partnership with Lewis ended in 1964, Freidman left Chicago and relocated to Hollywood. There he teamed up with another legendary exploitation producer Dan Sonney, whose father Louis Sonney practically invented the exploitation genre back in the 1920's. He bought into Dan's company Sonney Amusement Enterprises, and once again, created a whole new subgenere: the roughies. Their first film together was THE DEFILERS, which was released in 1965. The film became a huge success, and soon Friedman was producing all various types of softcore sexploitation films during the sixties: THE NOTORIOUS DAUGHTER OF FANNY HILL, SHE FREAK, A SMELL OF HONEY, A SWALLOW OF BRINE,  LOVE CAMP 7, and SPACE THING. Eventually he started to combine softcore films with his irreverent sense of humor, producing films such as THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO, THE LUSTFUL TURK, TRADER HORNEE, STARLET, and THAR SHE BLOWS! However the world changed in June of 1972, with the release of the film DEEP THROAT. Soon it was chic to see a porno film, and mainstream audiences soon flocked to their local grindhouse theater to see it. With the advent of hardcore pornos, it was the end for Friedman and his type of films. But he and Sonney were still making a profit. This dynamic duo were responsible for creating the Pussycat Theater chain, which in time would be screening mostly porno films. By 1970, there were over 750 theaters across the country, 47 in California alone.

Original DVD Cover (2005)
By the dawn of the 1980's, most of Friendman's films were long forgotten. The first wave of the slasher films were dominating theaters, while porno films were now being released on VHS tapes that you could  watch in the privacy of your home on a brand new invention called the VCR. But at the beginning of 1990, film buff Mike Vraney started his company called Something Weird Video (taken from the name of a 1968 Herschell Gordon Lewis film). Specializing in exploitation, sexploitation, grindhouse, and other obscure films that hadn't been released yet, Vraney contacted Friedman, and soon started releasing all his old films on VHS. Sales went through that roof, and Vraney was soon introduce to Friedman's colleagues, like Dan Sonney, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, Lewis, and others. Also in that same year, his autobiography entitled A YOUTH IN BABYLON: CONFESSIONS OF A TRASH-FILM KING was published. Friendman also appeared in several documentaries such as MAU MAU SEX SEX, and SCHLOCK! THE SECRET HISTORY OF AMERICAN MOVIES. In the early 2000's Friedman teamed up once again with Lewis to help produce the 2002 film BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL YOU CAN EAT as well as Tim Sullivan's 2005 remake of TWO THOUSAND MANIACS entitled 2001 MANIACS and its 2010 sequel 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS.

It's hard to imagine what the cinematic landscape would look like if it weren't for Friedman. His rich film legacy is literately second to none. In the exploitation world, his name can always be found at the top of the list of innovators and trail blazers. I hope that somewhere in this great big universe of ours, he is smiling down. Thank you for all the great memories Dave! Long Live David F. Friedman!!

To purchase any of Friedman's films on DVD, visit the Something Weird Video website at http://somethingweird.com/

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!


  1. This is really an adept article. I love how you tracked his filmography to show how he grew and developed from his original exploitation focus. It wasn't just about his life but a small history lesson as well.

    A little off topic, I love Something Weird Video. They have the best films.

  2. Thanks for the kind words! Also, I love Something Weird Video as well. My exploitation film library mostly consists of SWV DVDs. FYI: They just recently released Blu-Ray editions of THE BLOOD TRILOGY and BASKET CASE! Defiantly worth checking out!

  3. Basket Case is next on my watch list. I'm hoping its a good review for TDHorror.