When I think of classic over the top blood soaked horror, I think Herschell Gordon Lewis, the genius behind Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! Whenever I think of grisly deaths caused by psychotic magicians (more often than one would imagine, by the way), I think of his 1970 film The Wizard Of Gore. It is a true masterpiece of grindhouse cinema (and that is not something I say lightly).
The Wizard Of Gore has a very simple premise: All of the illusions performed by Montag the Magician (standards such as chainsawing a woman in half or running a lady through an industrial punch press) go off like any normal stage performance but later his lovely volunteers suddenly acquire the wounds they appeared to receive onstage (and die violently as a result). There is a framing story with a bit of philosophical fluff and a looping frame of reference meant to question the nature of reality but it really isn’t important. What is important is that this film not only features a bunch of ridiculously violent deaths caused by an insane magic act but that it is also the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis, who is kind of a magician in his own right.
An adman turned filmmaker, Lewis started in exploitation movies and almost single-handedly invented the splatter film. His works are low budget affairs, shot far from Hollywood and without the benefit of specialists in things like “cinematography” or “special effects.” Faced with daunting tasks he came up with ways to make the impossible look possible, much like a good magician. Also like a good magician, he used surprisingly simple methods such as convincing an actress to hold a real sheep’s tongue and as much stage blood as possible in her mouth to simulate her tongue being ripped out by the faithful worshippers of Ishtar. If you can find a version of The Wizard Of Gore with a feature on the making of the film, or any Herschell Gordon Lewis film, it is probably worth watching it as well. I prefer the out of print release introduced by drive-in historian and critic Joe Bob Briggs.
A few years ago The Wizard Of Gore was remade with The Suicide Girls portraying the assorted victims and Crispin Glover stepping into the role of Montag. I’ll admit that I haven’t ever seen it. I have been told by people I trust that it is entertaining enough, but I love the original too much to give a remake a fair chance. This shouldn’t stop you from adding it to your Halloween viewing list, especially because it may be easier to find than the original.
Both versions of The Wizard Of Gore are unrated and neither is suitable for children. However, they are the perfect cap to our Halloween season of magician related horror flicks. Happy viewing and happy Halloween.