David F. Friedman dies at 87; exploitation filmmaker pioneered B-movie gore

David F. Friedman, the godfather of B-movie gore who produced 1963’s “Blood Feast,” which paved a bloody path that led to increasingly graphic horror movies, has died. He was 87.

Friedman died Monday of heart failure at a nursing home in Anniston, Ala., said Bridget Everett, his niece.

“It’s hard to think of anybody who was more important to exploitation films,” said Eric Schaefer, an expert on the exploitation genre and a professor of visual and media arts at Boston’s Emerson College. “He was a link to the old road-show days of exploitation that begin in the 1920s and obviously was a crucial producer.”

As a longtime chairman of the board of the Adult Film Assn. of America, Friedman also was “a constant champion of the rights of adults to see adult material,” Schaefer said.


Friedman, a former carnival barker, made a series of sexploitation films with director Herschell Gordon Lewis in the early 1960s known as “nudie cuties” that promised a glimpse of the taboo.

“The secret of my stuff was the old carnival tease,” Friedman told The Times in 2002. “The audience would think: ‘Oh boy, we didn’t see it this week but next week.’ They never did see it, but they kept coming back.”

When the fad for such films started to fade, the pair decided to break new ground in horror by essentially creating a subgenre, “splatter movies.” The idea of showing “blood gushing” was then foreign to the movie business, Lewis told the Copley News Service in 2002.

“Blood Feast” was nominally about a serial killer who collects the body parts of female victims to honor an Egyptian goddess. It showcased “grotesque acts of carnage” that the camera shamelessly lingered upon, according to the AllMovie Internet database.


The movie premiered in summer 1963 at a drive-in in Peoria, Ill., when such theaters were plentiful and a “showcase of movie mediocrity,” Friedman said in 2002 in The Times.

“Blood Feast” was an instant success despite harsh reviews. In 1964, The Times called “Blood Feast” “a blot on the American film industry.

When Friedman described the film to his wife, Carol, she responded with one word: “Vomitous.” The remark prompted him to come up with a promotional barf bag that said “You May Need This When You See ‘Blood Feast.’ ”

He also teased audiences with such taglines as “Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror!” Words that appeared to drip blood were the norm.


While Friedman admitted that his movies were “garbage,” his “trailers and advertising were things of beauty,” Schaefer said. “He really was of that P.T. Barnum school of showmanship, drawing people in with every possible gimmick and trick.”

The film cost $24,500 to shoot over five days and turned a $6.5-million profit, Friedman told The Times in 2002.

“It was crude. The acting was terrible, and the effects were homemade,” Friedman said in 2001 in the Birmingham, Ala., News. “But it was just something new, something no one … had ever dared do before.”

David Frank Friedman was born Dec. 24, 1923, in Birmingham, Ala., the son of the business editor of the Birmingham News and his wife, a music teacher and pianist.


After his father died, Friedman moved to Buffalo, N.Y., with his mother and stepfather and attended Cornell University.

While in the Army, Friedman sold surplus searchlights to exploitation film and road-show pioneer Kroger Babb and later became a road-show salesman for Babb.

Friedman also was a regional publicist for Paramount Pictures in Atlanta and later held similar positions in Charlotte, N.C., New York and Chicago.

By 1956, he was producing low-budget movies in Chicago and in 1964 moved to Los Angeles, where he lived in the Hollywood Hills.


With Lewis, he made two more horror films, “Two Thousand Maniacs!” (1964) and “Color Me Blood Red” (1965). They reteamed once more in 2002 for “Blood Feast 2.”

In the late 1960s, Friedman turned to the adult film industry and released a succession of films known as “roughies,” violent movies that showed skin.

As films became more sexually explicit in the 1970s, Friedman adapted by making a string of bawdy soft-core sex farces that included “The Erotic Adventures of Zorro” (1972). It was promoted as “the first movie rated Z.”

Once hard-core movies began proliferating, Friedman said, he was not interested in making such permissive fare and eventually left the business. He continued to manage and promote the video sales of the roughly 50 pictures he owned, including “The Defilers” (1965) and “Acid Eaters” (1968).


His memoir, “A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King,” was published in 1990.

In 1988, he moved to Anniston to be near his wife’s family. She died in 2001. He is survived by nieces and nephews.