The Wizard of Gore (1970)
By: Devon B. on January 13, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 100 minutes
The Movie
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Starring: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay, Phil Laurenson
Screenplay: Allen Kahn
Country: USA
While not a personal favourite of director Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Wizard of Gore has become one of his most beloved, if that's the right word, films. Some suppose it is because Lewis himself is a wizard of gore, or that it's because Wizard is one of his bloodiest offerings. Personally, it's my favourite Lewis movie, not for those reasons, but for the totally whacked ending.

The Wizard of Gore focuses around Montag the Magnificent, a magician. 'Montag' means 'Monday' in German, but was perhaps merely used because of the alliteration. Anyway, Montag is played by Ray Sager, who the makeup people are relatively consistent with trying to make look older by dying his hair grey or putting a bad wig on him. Montag's magic show consists of him prattling on with the same tired speech before going into the graphic maiming of a young female member of the audience. The other audience members don't see the slaughter, because Montag has hypnotised the audience into thinking the women are all involved in harmless illusions. The hypnosis shots are jarring, hilarious close-ups of Sager's eyes.

The host of a TV show called Housewives' Coffee Break sees Montag's performance and is so impressed that she wants to have him as a guest. Her fiancé is less convinced by Montag, and his scepticism eventually leads the pair into the mystery of why Montag's volunteers seem to turn up dead shortly after their appearance on stage.

The 'acting' is on par with what one expects from a Lewis movie, though Sager's idea of a performance consists of yelling a lot. The plot is nothing more than a vignette for Montag's gory proceedings, but that doesn't really matter because what else does anyone watch a Lewis splatter flick for? The film is heavily padded, though not as bad as some of Lewis' other movies, but could easily have been trimmed to 80 minutes. Production values are worse than normal for Lewis, but that just makes the movie more hilarious. Even the gore is more remedial than usual, like the fake heads, but rest assured, actresses are still seen writhing around while offal is smeared on them, and the FX are plenty gooey. Oddly, despite their violent dispatchings, many of the deceased continue to breathe after leaving this world.

The film features some interesting logic, even by Lewis standards. Montag can hypnotise huge audiences (though he only ever seems to have about 30 people present at a show), but instead of hypnotising them to think he's torturing women, he actually tortures them and hypnotises people to think he isn't. Montag saws one woman in half and removes another's brain, but both still seem to be able to walk away from the theatre. How can you walk if you're sawn in half? I used to think having a brain was a prerequisite for walking, but then George W. seems to be able to put one foot in front of the other, so guess not. Another oddity, within the movie, is having a character attack the film's plot holes. The most bizarre element of all is the idea that a show like Housewives' Coffee Break's target audience would be interested in Grand Guignol. And all this happens well before the most insane ending ever committed to celluloid.
The Wizard of Gore is presented at 1.33:1. This 'remastered' print still has lots of grain, lines, specks and spots, but is cleaner than the old videos. Make sure you have a decent DVD player before putting this one on. Something Weird DVDs often skip in lower end players. This happened to me with both NTSC and PAL players, so it's not the format conversion process.
The DVD sleeve says the film is in Dolby Digital Stereo, but my player says the audio is a single channel. Regardless, the mix is low, which leaves the dialogue at times indecipherable. The sound is not always clear, but presumably that's more about the source material, especially given the track doesn't appear to have been remastered at all. Unfortunately, the audio commentary has some nasty static on it at times.
Extra Features
The Wizard of Gore comes with the film's trailer, which features more footage of Sager in character; art for other Lewis exploitation fare, mostly focusing on his sex flicks; and a commentary. The commentary features Mr. Lewis himself, and is hosted by the man behind Something Weird Video, Mike Vraney. Vraney is the creepiest person I've ever met, so I found his presence more of a distraction than anything. Lewis is an eloquent, talkative man, so Vraney didn't even need to be there, regardless. If he felt a host was needed, why not use his always amusing cohort, Frank Henenlotter? Anyway, the track provides the expected info about the production. Lewis is very fond of pointing out his chainsaw scene came prior to a certain movie set in Texas, but given The Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn't particularly gory, I'm not sure what point he wants to make. I did really like the anecdote about Monster A Go-Go.
The Verdict
I am quite fond of The Wizard of Gore, and this is a solid release of the film. This is probably the best it's going to look for awhile. It may not have been Lewis' first or best, but no one can deny its inept, outré charm. Plus, if you have it available, you can show the ending to friends and watch their befuddled reaction. How cool is that?
Movie Score
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