Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Wizard of Gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1970)

One by one, a seemingly unending concourse of leggy women are volunteering to be a part of the elaborate stage show being put on by Montag the Magnificent, the grandiose illusionist at the centre of The Wizard of Gore, a film that needs to be seen by both shiftless gorehounds and connoisseurs of fine acting. Since I'm neither, I wonder what will be the crux–the primary focus, if you will–of my review of the latest Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter-fest. I wonder. Anyway, as the female volunteers saunter leggily toward the stage, the first thing you'll notice is the plethora of loud, inaudible gasps coming from the audience as they start to make their ascent. Why are they gasping, you ask? I mean, from where I was sitting, it's clear as day that Montage the Magnificent hasn't done anything yet. Oh, hasn't he? Oh, wait a minute, you're right. He hasn't done a single damn thing. Unless you count acting pompous in a top hat to be a thing. Don't be silly. They're not inaudibly gasping in a pronounced manner because of anything Montag the Magnificent has done. No, the audience is gasping because of the shortness of dresses worn by the female volunteers. It being 1970 and all, you would think the general population would be used to seeing mini-dresses by now (it was invented way back in, oh, let's say, 1964 - yeah, that could be right). However, according to the ill-defined tenants of heterosexuality, mini-dress, mini-skirt, and micro-skirt appreciation will never go out of style. Of course, I'm well aware that hemlines lengths are constantly evolving. Yet, there's one thing that always stays the same. And that is, people will gasp at the sight of an attractive woman wearing a garment with a hemline that goes well beyond the knee. It's science.    
Don't look so surprised. You didn't really expect me to write about something as tasteless as gore, did you? I don't watch Herschell Gordon Lewis films for the ragù-inspired ghastliness, I watch them for the clothes. And as far as that criteria goes, The Wizard of Gore did not fail to fulfill the hopes and/or expectations of this fashion conscious viewer.
If you want to see one of the skimpy dresses I've been alluding to, I'm afraid you're going to have to sit through the long-winded speech currently being given by Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager), master of illusion; defyer of the laws of reason. I must say, even though his speech about the greatness of his act is a tad on the loquacious side, he does use the word "asunder" at one point, and I love the word "asunder." What's he tearing asunder, you might ask? Well, I'll tell you. He's only tearing asunder our concept of reality. Cool.
As his not-so lovely assistants (these guys look like hired goons) help set up his next illusion, Montag the Magnificent prepares the audience for the mind-blowing butchery that, according to him, is about to take place right before their very eyes. Holding a chainsaw above his head in triumph, Montag the Magnificent says he will slice a female audience member in half. But get this, he plans to do without the aide of a box. In other words, his sawing will take place right out in the open.
Staring into the crowd with a grey-browed intensity (Fuad Ramses from Blood Feast just called, collect, mind you, and he wants his eyebrows back), Montag the Magnificent seems to be attempting to put them in a trance. Suddenly, a leggy vision in a puke stain floral mini-dress walks toward the stage. Say hello to Stage Girl #1 (Karin Alexana), the first of Montag the Magnificent's gam-tastic volunteers.
Strapped to a table (one of the hired goons removes her shoes), Stage Girl #1 is, before you know it, being sawed in half. Or is she? The blood-splatter, the oozing entrails, and the screams all would indicate that she is indeed being cut in half. But then, after Montag the Magnificent has finished playing with her guts, she seems perfectly fine. What do you mean, "perfectly fine"? People who get sawed in half and words "perfectly fine" don't exactly go together. Well, whatever just happened, Stage Girl #1 doesn't have a scratch on her.
After the show, Stage Girl #1 can be seen at a nearby restaurant (being nearly cut in half has obviously made her hungry). While the maître d' is perplexed by her trance-like state, she still somehow manages to get a table without saying a word. Everything seems to be going fine, when I giant wound suddenly appears across Stage Girl #1's midsection. You mean? Yep, the wound is located in the same place where Montag the Magnificent sawed her
The way Karin Alexana falls out of her chair and onto the floor of the restaurant was strangely erotic. No one flashes her panties while sliding off a chair quite like Karin Alexana. No one!
Meanwhile, outside the theatre, the delightfully symmetrical Sherry Carson (Judy Cler), the host of Housewife Coffee Break, and her sportswriter fiance, Jack (Wayne Ratay) are talking about the show. While Sherry was wowed by Montag the Magnificent, Jack appears to be not that impressed. As they're walking, they come across a large crowd milling about outside a restaurant. That's right, it's the very same restaurant where Stage Girl #1 succumbed to the injuries she didn't appear to have when she left Montag's show (her insides didn't look like overcooked ravioli when she vacated the theatre). Keep an eye on Sherry's hand. It brushes against Stage Girl #1's bloody hand; this hand brush will play an important role in the film as it progresses.
Raving about Montag's act on her show the very next day, Sherry, who's sitting with her legs crossed and wearing a yellow skirt, can't seem to get enough of his illusions. In fact, she was enamoured with his act that she pays Montag a visit at the theatre. Attempting to chat with him backstage, Sherry finds Montag to be rude and a tad standoffish. A tad? Okay, he's very standoffish. Telling her, "I don't grant interviews," Montag is about to give the leggy talk show host the old heave-ho, when he notices the blood stain on her hand (it appears then disappears). I told you the blood stain would have an important role to play (we believed you).
Anyway, his demeanour changes completely after noticing the blood stain. He even apologizes and gives her two tickets to tonight's performance. Hmm, I wonder what he's up to?
You know who's not going to be thrilled when he finds out he's got to attend another one Montag's shows? Sherry's fiance, Jack, that's who. And you can see the annoyance on his face as Montag begins to give the same speech from last night's show. Except, instead of cutting a woman in half, Montag plans to drive a metal spike through the head of Stage Girl #2 (Corinne Kirkin), a leggy blonde in a dark blue mini-dress with bits of red string around the collar and near a waist-level pocket for added flair. To prove the spike is made of metal, Montag asks a member of the audience to come up and validate his claim. As expected, Jack jumps to his feet and rushes the stage.
While Montag waved Stage Girl #2's brains at the audience, I couldn't help but notice that sitting with her legs crossed is Sherry Carson's preferred method of sitting.
When Montag tells Sherry and Jack backstage after the show that what they just saw was nothing but an illusion, they inform him that Stage Girl #1 was murdered at a nearby eatery. As this news is being relayed to him, Montag turns to the camera, smirks a sly smirk, and says, "How very unfortunate."
Giving a performance that reminded me of Mal Arnold's creepy turn as Fuad Rames in Blood Feast, Ray Sager gives bluster a good name as Montag the Magnificent, as he commands the stage with a hucksterish glee.
It's too bad he's overshadowed by a cavalcade of leggy volunteers, or else he could have, oh, I don't know, landed a role on General Hospital. Well, that's not exactly true; the leggy cavalcade, not the General Hospital part. Whoever decided to let Stage Girl #3 (Monica Blackwell) wear those gaudy-looking trousers on stage should be flogged. No, wait. That's too harsh. They should get a stern talking to. Yeah, someone should tell them that the sight of Stage Girl #3, a.k.a. Punch-press Girl, in trousers made me cry.
As more and more mutilated bodies of volunteers (stage girls) start showing up at the morgue (bodies that Montag winds up stealing and taking to a super-secret crypt located just outside town), Jack and Sherry go into sleuth mode. Determined to get the bottom of this gory hullabaloo, they set up an elaborate sting operation involving the cops and some of Jack's co-workers. The plan is to follow the volunteer home so that they can catch their killer  in the act. Only problem is, Montag's forth show features two volunteers. You heard right, say hello to Stage Girl #4 (Sally Brody) and Stage Girl #5 (Karen Burke). Now, I don't know which one is which. But I do know that one wore a purple skirt and the other one was sheathed in a floral dress. Both are forced to swallow swords, and, as usual, it's a pretty grisly sight. I'd say the sword swallowing scene was the film's most ghastly in terms of, well, ghastliness.
In terms of acting, I'd say Wayne Ratay's "Greg! Your hand, it's bleeding! Our hands. Look at your hand. Greg! Our hands are bleeding." was my absolute favourite non-gore-related, non-leggy moment in the entire film. It stands on its own as one of the most ridiculous scenes in film history. In fact, the scene is so awesome that it's included in the Something Weird Video montage intro thingie that plays at the start of all their fine video products.

video uploaded by Bostonfilmsnobs


  1. Oh, dear...bless the 70's. They tried to be fun and inventive with their fashions, and they just got it all wrong. A hot mess, as the kids say today. I thought the red 'yarn' on that blue dress was supposed to be the young lady's entrails at first.

    Fun fact: the guts they used in the movie were from a couple of sheep. They kept them around for the two weeks of filming, soaked in Pine-Sol.

  2. Entrails as a fashion accessory?!? Oh, dear, indeed. :D

    Sheep guts seem to be the go-to innards when it comes to depicting gore on film. (I just watched City of the Living Dead.)

  3. Mr. Ryder, I would respectfully disagree. I personally think today's fashions are a stinking hot mess. While 1970s color schemes were garish, more interesting things were to come (the '80s). But not right now.

    Well, the acting in this ain't a Bergman film. One noticeable thing about all H.G. Lewis gore films is that everyone is stupid. Really stupid. Like dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers level stupid. For some reason, it gives his movies their own bizarre logic. No, that doesn't make much sense, but there you go.