A no budget “classick” by the late Herschell Gordon Lewis, the one and only Godfather of Gore. While THE WIZARD OF GORE, being a fairly typical Lewis production, probably won’t ever win any awards, it is some serious vintage fun for gore fans.
Made in 1970, THE WIZARD OF GORE was one of the last films directed by the prolific Mr. Lewis, who from 1963’s BLOOD FEAST onward made his name by churning out cheap films exploiting an element nobody else was at the time: gore (Lewis quit making movies for nearly three decades, until ‘02’s BLOOD FEAST 2). His films—TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, THE GORE-GORE GIRLS and many others—aren’t great by any standard, or even very good, but they do have a certain campy, homemade charm. Their shock value may have long since worn off, but there’s a good reason people still view Lewis’ films today.
Montag the Magnificent is a small-time magician with some very real hypnotic powers. He demonstrates his supernatural talents by luring a young woman onstage with him one night and sawing her in half, then reveals that he’s hypnotized his audience into thinking they witnessed the gory bisection. Or did he? The woman enters a restaurant shortly after the stage act and promptly dies, gushing blood.
Montag continues to lure nubile young women onstage and hypnotize his audience into thinking he’s mutilating them in various horrific ways: crushed in a giant punch press, spiked through the head and gored by a sword down the throat. Afterwards, though, as with Montag’s original victim, the women find themselves afflicted with their seemingly illusory onstage wounds.
Things really get scary when Sherry, an airheaded talk show hostess, decides to put Montag’s act on the air. Onscreen he hypnotizes viewers across America, who find themselves bleeding from their hands, but powerless to do anything about it. The illusion is stopped, however, when a reporter breaks in and pushes Montag into a fire.
!!!SPOILER ALERT!!! Sherri confers with her boyfriend afterward, only to have him tear off his face and reveal himself as Montag, who’s been manipulating “reality” throughout. Cackling maniacally, he proceeds to cut Sherri up, only to have her sit up and laugh, revealing it’s been she who has all along been controlling reality.
It seems that in THE WIZARD OF GORE H.G. Lewis was trying for something at least semi-profound, with weighty illusion-vs.-reality themes, but the filmmaking is on par with that of his other films: cheap ‘n tacky, as befits a filmmaker known as “one take Lewis.” The acting, as in most Lewis productions, is pretty appalling; if Ray Sager seems less than ideal in the main role, that’s probably because he was hired on as a technician and then conscripted into starring in the film after the original actor bowed out.
The gore FX are what really matter here, and you can rest assured that they’re as inept as ever, with patently fake mannequin heads getting sliced and punctured. It’s the way in which Lewis shoots his flesh drillings and intestine fondling that make these scenes so oddly endearing; his camera tends to linger lovingly over each gruesome moment, and Lewis is always careful to hold his nauseating shots several beats longer than is standard. The film’s late sixties vibe, in addition, now seems irresistibly campy. THE WIZARD OF GORE was never intended as a comedy, but that’s certainly how it plays now!
THE WIZARD OF GORE
Mayflower Pictures, Inc./Shock Films
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Producer: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Screenplay: Allen Kahn
Cinematography: Alex Ameri, Daniel Krogh
Editor: “Eskandor Ameripoor” (Alex Ameri)
Cast: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay, Phil Laurenson, Jim Rau, Don Alexander, John Elliot, Karin Alexana, Jack Gilbreth, Corinne Kirkin, Monica Blackwell, Sally Brody, Karen Burke, Eric Kelner Raynard, Sheldon Reis