Wizard of Gore
directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
starring Ray Sager, Judy Cler
Like any self-respectable exploitation film maker, Herschell Gordon Lewis was always looking for the next gimmick that would get people into theaters, specifically drive-in theaters. He got started making nudie films. Nudie films were basically some kind of framing device that footage from nudist colonies were edited into. As Joe Bob Briggs so succinctly put it “movies where six ugly people with acne played volleyball in the nude for an hour and a half”. That market dried up pretty quick and the former ad man went on to crank out hicksploitation flicks, biker movies, and juvenile delinquent pictures, but it was when he settled on gore movies, Lewis found his place in film history. After the release of Blood Feast in 1963 with its tongue-ripping gore, Lewis had found his niche and became the “Godfather of Gore”.
The films Blood Fest, 2000 Maniacs, and Wizard of Gore make up H.G. Lewis’ “Gore Trilogy” even though the three films have nothing to do with each other besides being gore films made by Herschell Gordon Lewis. The “trilogy” is also a huge misnomer as he made A Taste for Blood and The Gruesome Twosome in the years between 2000 Maniacs and Wizard of Gore. He even made another splatter film with 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls which was his swan song from the director’s chair for thirty years. Wizard of Gore has the best gore effects of the three, but actually by 1970 was already falling behind other filmmakers who had jumped on the gore train in the years since Blood Feast. When you compare Wizard of Gore to Mark of the Devil, both 1970, it feels absolutely old fashioned and quaint. What does set Wizard of Gore apart is total buy in to the lunacy that is Montag the Magnificent. Montag is a magician who performs mutilation tricks featuring female audience members (think sawing a woman in half). The shocking tricks leave the women unharmed, until later when they mysteriously die from similar injuries. A plucky TV reporter and her boyfriend suspect Montag of malfeasance. It all sounds very by the book until the end when Lewis and screenwriter Allen Kahn throw reality in a blender and deliver a series of twists that would make M. Night Shyamalan blush. The face-peeling plot twists and elliptical story telling give the whole affair a fun, trippy vibe.
Arrow Video has produced a handsome Blu-ray edition of Wizard of Gore. It may not be a demo disc for your home theater but the transfer is certainly worth the DVD upgrade. The disc has a commentary track with Lewis moderated by Mike Vraney which has been carried over from the earlier Something Weird release. There is an interview with actor Ray Sager. Stephen Trower also shows up to give his insights on the film. But wait, there’s more. A second H.G. Lewis film How to Make a Doll (1968) is also included to get a taste of his non-splatter efforts. My personal favorite extra on the disc is the Herschell Gordon Lewis episode of the 1980s British TV series The Incredibly Strange Film Show. This was a documentary series highlighting different offbeat film makers including Lewis, Ed Wood, Doris Wishman, and was my first introduction to the fantastic world of Hong Kong new wave cinema pioneer Tsui Hark.