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The Wizard of Gore

The Gruesome Twosome (1967) was the last full-fledged gore film from Herschell Gordon Lewis for several years. While the director's trademark bloodletting made occasional appearances in such films as She-Devils on Wheels and A Taste of Blood, Lewis applied himself to a variety of relatively "dry" projects, as well--ranging from adult dramas to children's films. The Wizard of Gore marked his full-fledged return to the arena subtly suggested by the title...

Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) is a stage magician whose actual powers go completely unsuspected by his audiences. After an impressive opening act in which he beheads himself via guillotine, his subsequent illusions seem ridiculously simple by comparison--until he announces the old standby of "sawing a woman in half." Even magicians have become modernized, according to Montag--hence, the trick will be performed with a state-of-the-art chainsaw... and in full view of the audience. With his volunteer secured to a table, Montag gleefully performs the bisection. But while he (and the viewer of the film) sees the ghastly details in loving closeup, Montag's audience sees a bloodless "miracle"--indeed, the subject (now in a trance) rises from the table in one piece and retakes her seat to a round of applause. Reality doesn't catch up until well after she's left the theater--upon arrival at a restaurant, she suddenly falls apart in full view of everyone! Night after night, Montag finds new ways to dispatch his hapless volunteers: there's the iron spike, a variation on sword swallowing, and most outrageously of all, the "punch press of doom." Always clean and safe to Montag's audience, always horrendously gory to the film viewer, and always fatal outside the confines of the theater.

Talk show host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler), intrigued by Montag's act but unaware of its true nature, invites Montag to appear on her show (perhaps under his hypnotic influence), paving the way for Montag to plan the ultimate trick on an untold number of television viewers...

The surrealism of the storyline is bolstered with reality-challenging elements from beginning to end. Montag's introductory speech challenges the audience (including the viewers of this very film) to prove that they're actually watching the show and not merely dreaming themselves in the theater. No explanation whatsoever is given for the origins of Montag's powers; his goals and motivations are similarly obscure. Montag is seen performing a nightly ritual in which the bodies of his victims are spirited off to a secret location inside a cemetery; no rationale is ever offered. And while many mystery-thrillers have offered a "nothing is what it seems" finale, it's never been done in quite the way Lewis does it here.

Why? According to Lewis, there IS no answer, and he's surprised anybody would ever try to make sense out of it. He simply wanted to make an "unreal" film with plenty of eye-popping gore. And yet it is this very element of surrealism that makes this movie of Lewis's best-regarded films (though the director himself confesses little affection for it).

Something Weird's DVD features an audio commentary between Lewis and Mike Vraney. The expected behind-the-scenes anecdotes are all there: we hear how editor Ray Sager (real name Ray Szegho) found himself with the lead role at the last minute, how the crew reacted to the various gore effects, etc. But a good deal of the commentary will be of particular interest to fans of the director, as it also covers much of his most obscure work, including his own experiment in live theatre (the short-lived Blood Shed in Chicago) and such lost films as Miss Nymphet's Zap-In and the political comedy-drama Year of the Yahoo (one of Lewis's personal favorites). While there's extreme gore to spare on the screen, there's far more under discussion here, making this commentary track one of the best in this series.

The theatrical trailer is also included, as is a new "Gallery of Exploitation Art" showcasing Lewis's solo films. The Wizard of Gore was the director's penultimate gore film. While it seems that all possible stops were pulled out here, we're warned (on the commentary track) that we haven't seen anything yet... and sure enough, the most extreme and disturbing was yet to come!


Go to:
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls