Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1970
Starring: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay
Montag the Magnificent performs Grand Guignol-eqsue magic shows where he selects female volunteers and performs violent spectacles on them, such as cutting them in half or running them through with swords. Unfortunately for the volunteers, later in the evening they die violently with wounds similar to the illusions performed on them. A local TV personality with a daytime talk show, Sherry Carson, is impressed with Montag’s act and is hoping to invite him on her show to interview him. At first he coldly rebukes her, but soon changes his mind and agrees to come on the show to perform a magnificent illusion. After watching a couple of his performances, Sherry and her boyfriend come to believe that Montag is in some way involved with the women’s murders and they desperately search for proof.
It’s impossible to deny that H. G. Lewis, Godfather of Gore, influenced several generations of horror and exploitation filmmakers. While his films may not be mainstream material or - depending on your definition - “good” in a traditional sense, they have a certain magic about them. Wizard of Gore certainly has its charms and a so bad it’s good quality, but it doesn’t reach the heights (or depths) of Lewis’s finest films, such as Blood Feast.
The camera work, editing, and script are all bottom of the barrel, but this is the sort of thing you expect from a Lewis film. The acting is absolutely terrible. Ray Sagar gives the best performance as Montag, though he uses the school of acting that requires wooden sounding dialogue and the indication that someone off camera is holding up a cue card. Sagar is easily 20 years too young to play Montag, which Lewis made up for with some fake-looking eyebrows and an absurd white wig or possibly spray paint on Sagar’s hair. Other “actors” Judy Cler and Wayne Ratay are horrible by comparison and it’s probably for the best that they didn’t really continue on with their acting careers.
Overall this is a pretty boring film. It moves from one trick to another like a series of vignettes, not really bothering to put much between other than dialogue, some shots of people talking on the phone, a make out/sex scene, etc. As a result, Wizard of Gore is absolutely hilarious, though always unintentionally so.
It will definitely please fans of gore. Though some of the effects are dated, they are still believable, thanks to the sheep carcasses used in place of human viscera. Women are forced to swallow swords, cut in half, have knives driven into their skulls, and have their guts mashed with some kind of industrial press. One is even pulled apart with Montag’s bare hands. All of these scenes are very well done, though the real reason to watch Wizard of Gore at least once is because of the phenomenal ending, so surreal and bonkers that you don’t even see it coming. The characters begin to question the nature of reality, peeling back dizzying layer after layer. What a bunch of nonsense.
This is one of those movies that is impossible for me recommend, but it is such an acquired taste. Lewis newbies should check out the earlier Blood trilogy before Wizard of Gore, though trash movie fans that haven’t seen Wizard of Gore yet will probably love it. It’s available on special edition DVD or as a double feature Blu-ray with Gore Gore Girls. Avoid the 2007 remake.