10.21.2008

The Wizard of Gore (1970 & 2007)



DIRECTED BY
Herschell Gordon Lewis (1970)
Jeremy Kasten (2007)

STARRING
Ray Sager/Crispin Glover - Montag The Magnificent
Judy Cler - Sherry Carson (1970)
Wayne Ratay - Jack (1970)
Phil Laurenson - Greg (1970)
Bijou Phillips - Maggie (2007)
Kip Pardue - Edmund Bigelow (2007)
Jeffrey Combs - The Geek (2007)
Brad Dourif - Dr. Chong (2007)
Joshua John Miller - Jinky (2007)

Genre - Horror

Running Time - 93 Minutes (1970)/97 Minutes (2007)

Score -
3.5 Howls Outta 4 (1970)
2.5 Howls Outta 4 (2007)


The whole notion of magic fascinates me. From witchcraft, to voodoo, to stupid card tricks, I like the whole art of it. Not everyone seems to be gifted at the art though, as David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Criss Angel seem to be the only ones making a living out of magic and becoming A-list celebrities in the process. Hell, magic doesn't even seem to be the focus anymore, as these guys use the stuff to get hot chicks by attempting insane stuff that's more hype than substance. Still, I always wonder how these illusions are done.

I'm honestly surprised no magician [or illusionist, as they like to call themselves these days] has used their magic to woo women long enough in order to make them vulnerable for murder. I mean, serial killers who pose as illusionists could get away with their crimes by convincing people the murders are all an act when they really aren't. Look at O.J. Simpson! Robert Blake anyone? Hell, they aren't even magicians and they got away with murder! Imagine a real illusionist?

In THE WIZARD OF GORE, an illusionist called Montag The Magnificent does just that. He pulls beautiful women out of a crowd and butchers them in horrific ways, and then convinces the audience that they were all a hallucination. Or are they?

PLOT
Both versions of THE WIZARD OF GORE have a similar premise, but are told in totally different ways.

In the 1970 version, we watch Montag The Magnificent (Ray Sager) become a sensation in the magic world. His reputation rises when it's spread worldwide about his really insane acts, which involve Montag picking random women out of his crowds and mutilating them as they're hypnotized before these acts are revealed to be nothing but illusions for the audience. Due to his popularity, some TV journalist (Judy Cler) and her reporter boyfriend (Wayne Ratay) attend Montag's shows to see what the fuss is all about. But soon, their admiration turns into an investigation as it appears every one of Montag's "volunteers" in his acts end up dying the same way Montag had pretended to murder them on stage. Or is it really pretend?

In the 2007 remake, some news reporter named Ed Bigelow (Kip Pardue) becomes fascinated by the magic acts of one Montag The Magnificent (Crispin Glover), whose acts involve degrating women (members of the Suicide Girls) by calling them "bitch", stripping them nude, and then mutilating them in horrible ways in front of a shocked crowd, only to reveal that the whole thing was an illusion. Soon after, the women are found dead in the same way they were killed onstage. Ed, now obsessed with the whole story, continues to go to the shows with his lady friend Maggie (Bijou Phillips), to find out Montag's secret. As he continues going to the shows, Ed begins having dreams that make him the killer of these women. Plus he starts having memories of things that never happened and forgetting things that did. What's going on with Ed?

REVIEW

[1970]

Herschell Gordon Lewis' THE WIZARD OF GORE is one of those films that leaves an imprint with you long after it's over. It's surreal. It's bizarre. It's such a badly made movie that happens to be extremely effective and makes you want to see how it'll end. It's also extremely sleazy and pretty gory for its time. It's a B-movie cult classic that's not the greatest horror film in the world [no matter what the film JUNO says], but it's a memorable one for those with an acquired taste for H.G. Lewis' stuff.

There's barely much of a cohesive story in THE WIZARD OF GORE. The focus is mainly on Montag The Magnificent's gory illusion acts on helpless women with everything else pretty much sandwiching it just to fill up time. The whole investigative portion of the story doesn't really add all that much to the film because it really isn't developed enough and having each sequence ending with Sherry and Jack making out and apparently having sex. I guess the only thing I can compare it to is a porn flick, where the focus is obviously on the hardcore sex with that thin story surrounding it so the sex could make sense. Except the sex here is actually the gorish sequences. That makes it pretty hard to review a film like this because what really is Lewis and screenwriter Allen Kahn trying to do here? Are we supposed to dwell on the thin plot and badly written characters [other than Montag of course]? Or are we supposed to just be weirded out by this flick? Knowing Lewis' track record, THE WIZARD OF GORE is meant to shock and boggle people's minds. And since the movie does that well, it works.

I appreciate the way the film plays out the whole idea of reality and illusion. When you think you're seeing something "real", it turns out to be an illusion. And vice versa. Especially during the end of the film, where the two just seem to merge in a really bizarre way that messes with your head and makes you wonder if you're really seeing this or not. I kept saying "What the fuck?" the entire time. It's actually fascinating how such a shoddy made film can be so effective with the small things, as the subtlety is more powerful than the over-the-top nature of the rest of the film.

Speaking of over-the-top, Ray Sager gives one of the most overacted performances as Montag The Magnificent. The guy is just a total ham, mugging for the camera and giving such an overdramatic performance. He's so ridiculously bad but you can't really keep your eyes off of the guy. It's such high camp that you can't help but be entertained by Sager. The other actors in the film are very bad as well, as they can't even carry dialogue with each other convincingly. I think I was laughing and overly amused by the horridness of the thespian work here, which makes this movie all the more appealing since it's not a film to be taken seriously to begin with.

The gore effects in the film are actually pretty bad. Thumbs up for creativity though. We have a guillotine act, the always classic saw trick, a chisel to the ear, and some chick getting crushed by a piston. It's obviously cheaply done. We get ground meat, ketchup, and mannequins passing for the victims during and after the fact. And Lewis doesn't even attempt to hide it either, which makes it awesome in my book. No many people can get away with horrible special effects, but H.G. Lewis definitely can because it adds more fun to the B-movie.

Speaking of H.G. Lewis, he's a horrible director who happens to be brilliant at the same time. Terrible editing, horrible pacing, and he just points and shoots at what he wants you to see. But it's effective in THE WIZARD OF GORE because it's disjointed imagery adds to the weirdness of the film. It's bad filmmaking at its finest and sometimes a director can get away with it and come out smelling like roses. H.G. Lewis definitely has this talent.

[2007]

The Jeremy Kasten remake of THE WIZARD OF GORE is a totally different animal entirely. It takes the whole Montag The Magnificent angle, but turns the film from a shocking splatterfest to a mystery/thriller that doesn't totally work. That's not to say the remake is terrible. As a matter of fact, it's refreshing that someone had the guts to retell a cult classic and give it a completely different feel and look. That's what a director should do with a remake. So while it's not a total success, the remake is definitely worth looking into at least once.

In this version, there's more story. To be quite honest, I'm not sure if that's a positive or negative thing. The original didn't need to have a strong story because it's only objective is to shock, not win an Academy Award. Here, the focus is taken off of Montag and placed on the reporter character, Edmund, who becomes obsessed with Montag and starts having dreams that he's the one killing the women who are part of Montag's act. The thing is that Edmund isn't really that interesting of a character. He's not horribly written and does have somewhat of a personality as a cad who dresses like he's Clark Kent from the 1940s. It's just that he's not that exciting to watch either. He breathes into a paper bag whenever he feels anxious and has weird dreams. Even though he's not in the film a whole lot, Montag The Magnificent is still the best character because we know who he is and why he does what he does [which the original never really explains, mind you]. He really should be the main character instead of Edmund, but Edmund's the reason why the mystery even takes place because through him, we start asking ourselves if Montag is really killing these women or if Edmund is the one behind the murders. It wouldn't be so bad if Edmund's mental issues didn't feel so forced and convoluted to the point where it starts to fall apart towards the end of the film. It seems for a simple story, there's just too much going on to tell it. I appreciate the new take on an old cult classic, but sometimes less is more. In THE WIZARD OF GORE 2007, that couldn't be more true.

Another issue is that the film is less gorier than the actual 1970 original! The film is called THE WIZARD OF GORE! Show me gore! Who wouldn't want Crispin Glover torture people and make them bleed in horrifically bizarre ways? But because of the mystery aspect, the actual point of the film seems lost. I want to see a Wizard perform gory acts on people, not watch a reporter lose his mind. It's kind of frustrating because Montag is the most interesting character in the film, yet he's pretty much used as a prop to tell a story. The magic acts should have been the highlight.

I will say that the I do love the film noir-ish feel of the remake. It's very dark with a lot of shadows. The voiceover narration and the retro fashion during present time infused the remake with a very classy look, mood, and atmosphere. It also helps with the movie has a lot of ambiguity and dark satire that really gives the remake a more intelligent and serious feel that the original lacked. Jeremy Kasten and his crew did a really cool job creating a new film out of something old. I liked the direction and visuals of the film alot, especially the dream sequences. Beautiful cinematography too, I must add. A very nice looking film.

The acting is a lot better than the original, although the less-than-stellar acting from some of the cast hurts the film more than it did in the original due to the remake's more serious tone. The star here is obviously Crispin Glover, who while not as memorable as Ray Sager in the original, is still very good with his take of Montag The Magnificent. The guy is a sexist, creepy louse of a man and it's hard to take your eyes off of him. I think Glover could have been more overdramatic, as he seems to be holding back some here. But I like Glover in anything he's in really, and this was no exception. Special mention also goes to Brad Dourif and Jeffrey Combs, who have smaller supporting roles but make the most of them like you would expect these two to do. Hell, I didn't realize Combs as The Geek until the very end due to his disguise. Seeing these three guys together is a horror geek's dream really.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same about Kip Pardue and Bijou Phillips. They weren't horrible at all, but I wasn't really impressed by their performances. Phillips fares better, as she doesn't really have that much of a role in the film besides being the person who keeps Edmund grounded from his insanity. And she's never a main focus anyway, so it works out I guess. Pardue, however, doesn't seem like he's giving it his all as Edmund. The voiceover sounded like he didn't give a shit and the actual acting was decent but not something I can remember as I write this. When you're the lead of the film and you're overshadowed by three supporting actors who are much more memorable, there's a problem.

And I just want to say that the ending to the remake was pretty lame. The original film's ending was a whole lot better and more entertaining. I just thought the remake's was too predictable and doesn't make me all that excited if a sequel is made for this. It was just "whatever".

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE MAKING PEOPLE'S HANDS BLEED

- Montag performed a trick where a guillotine cut his own head off. Lorena Bobbitt was a big fan of this trick. Unfortunately for her husband, she got confused by which head to use. Oops!

- Montag wondered if people have ever seen "human butchery". Oh c'mon! I'm not the only one saw BATTLEFIELD EARTH! If that's not human butchery, I don't know what is!

- Montag chainsawed some chick in half for his audience. Man, those Texas crowds sure get all the good shows!

- Montag chiseled a blonde chick in her ear and then started to morph her face. Now I see who worked on Kenny Rogers new face.

- If a woman wiggles too much when swallowing a sword, it can mess with her digestive tract. Especially if she doesn't pull out when the sword gets excited. Then again, some people love a protein diet.

- Some homeless looking dude bit into a live rat. I guess he wasn't a fan of WILLARD. It wasn't that bad!

- Montag carved some chick's abdomen open. Talk about an emergency C-section.

- Montag cut some girl's noggin off. Man, she's bad at giving head.

- Montag shoved a long broomstick down some coroner's throat and pulled out his insides when the stick was removed. Talk about solving the mystery behind Deep Throat!

- Edmund had a vision of himself beating the crap out of Maggie. I haven't seen that kind of abuse since Ike and Tina. Damn!

THE FINAL HOWL
Both versions of THE WIZARD OF GORE are worth looking into, depending on your taste. If you're looking for a kooky, campy film - the original 1970 version is for you. If you want something more mysterious and serious, then the 2007 version is right up your alley. Like with most remakes, I prefer the original as its wackiness still lingers with me. At least the remake didn't totally suck balls. Or was that illusion to make me think it was decent when in reality the film really did suck balls? And why is my hand bleeding? Damn you, Montag!

4 comments:

  1. Superb Review!!

    I saw the original, years ago, and enjoyed it.
    I am glad to hear that the re-make is watchable and decent even!

    I love the way you inject humor into your reviews - particularly the things that you have learned.
    [Battlefield Earth - HUman Butchery indeed!!] :-)

    Nice ending as well. . .

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked the remake. Worth it alone for Glover's performance.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think I'm still a little surprised that anyone even did a remake...

    ReplyDelete
  4. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobOctober 24, 2008 at 10:52 AM

    herschell gordon lewis is "GOD", he quite simply owns the universe.

    ReplyDelete

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