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HomeentertainmentMovie NewsTerry Levene, Producer, Marketer and Distributor of Exploitation Films, Dies at 90

Terry Levene, Producer, Marketer and Distributor of Exploitation Films, Dies at 90

Terry Levene, the schlock showman who as the head of Aquarius Releasing was behind such films as Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave and Doctor Butcher, Medical Deviate, has died. He was 90.

Levene died Jan. 13 surrounded by his family in Englewood, New Jersey, Severin Films executive Josh Johnson announced.

Operating out of an office above the Selwyn Theatre on West 42nd Street in New York, Levene creatively marketed low-budget American features including Isaac Hayes: Black Moses of Soul (1973) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).

For grindhouses and drive-ins, the onetime amateur boxer rebranded Lucio Fulci’s supernatural horror film The Beyond (1981) as Seven Doors of Death (1985) and Umberto Lenzi’s Italian shocker Cannibal Ferox (1981) as Make Them Die Slowly (1983), promoting the gory latter as “The Most Violent Film Ever! Banned in 31 Countries!”

Aquarius passed out barf bags to those paying to see Doctor Butcher, Medical Deviate (1983), which was a re-edited version of Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980). The film also went by titles including Island of the Last Zombies, Queen of the Cannibals and Zombie 3.

“In one of the greatest and most absurd film premises of all time,” Mike Campbell wrote in a review of the film on The Scariest Things blog, “a cannibal outbreak in the New York hospital system is discovered by a sexy morgue assistant (Lori), who happens to be a sexy anthropologist, who happens to have been raised on a sexy cannibal island — where the cannibals/zombies are from!”

It would not be surprising to learn that Levene early on distributed the notorious sex film Deep Throat (1972), starring Linda Lovelace. “A theater that was doing an average of $10,000 to $15,000 a week, which they were happy with, was now making 60 grand, $70,000 a week,” he said in the 2016 DVD featurette Butchery and Ballyhoo.

He also booked into theaters early showings of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1976) and John Sayles’ Alligator (1980).

Terence Levene was born in London on Feb. 17, 1933. After his parents sold a chain of theaters that they owned, they moved the family to Buffalo, New York, and started another one.

Levene helped popularize martial arts movies in the U.S. after the 1973 death of the action star Bruce Lee with such titles as Goodbye Bruce Lee (1975), Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave (1976) and Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (1980).

Levene was featured in the 2023 documentary Enter the Clones of Bruce.

Levene also found success with flicks that revolved around women in prison, among them Women in Cell Block 7 (1973), Barbed Wire Dolls (1976) and The Concrete Jungle (1982). “The sluts in a slammer phenomena really does business,” he noted.

Survivors include his wife, Sarai; his daughter, Rachel, and her husband, Gregory; his grandchildren, Charlotte and Clifford; and his sister, Mollie, and her husband, John.

“All of the pictures that were first reproduced by me had a certain uniformity to them, they were all crap on the left hand and on the right hand they made some money,” he said. “I produced 32 pictures in 30 years, all exploitation, that’s not so bad.”

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