I struggle with my relationship with the films of H. G. Lewis. The Godfather of Gore churned out some pretty incredible and definitely outrageous films during his initial decade-or-so long filmmaking career*. While I adore the Egyptianate cannibal excess of "Blood Feast" and have watched that movie numerous times, I doubt I'll be revisiting "The Gore Gore Girls," with its madcap anti-woman viciousness. There's a real misanthropy in Lewis' films, and he seems to delight in introducing his unlikeable and/or stupid characters to their gruesome ends.
*He's since returned to the director's chair, though I haven't really had an interest in these latest films.
Similarly, I grapple with my response to the profusion of remakes that populate the current genre film landscape. I'd love to see some ideas at least re-branded into being something with a new name, and I'm annoyed by having to specify "the original one" when speaking about favorite movies. That having been said, I'm overall pretty neutral to the concept of remakes. Some ideas are worth revisiting.
I'm not sure H. G. Lewis' meta-as-fuck-yet-somehow-still-very-dumb "The Wizard of Gore" had ideas that were really worth revisiting, but I am sure that it was inevitable that I'd watch the 2007 remake of "The Wizard of Gore," given that it features performances by Crispin Glover, Brad Dourif, and Jeffrey Combs--with bonus points for the added promise of Suicide Girls nekkidity**.
**I am only human. I have my needs. This same humanity is why I somehow wound up with two copies of "Neu Wave Hookers" in my possession.
HGL's "Wizard" is an oddly-structured movie that begins with Montag the Magnificent, an old-timey magician complete with tophat and cape, speaking (at length) to his audience about the nature of reality before sawing a lady in half with a chainsaw. This isn't any ordinary gal-in-a-box stunt here, either--there's a whole bunch of grue that billows from the poor unfortunate's belly while she screams her way through the stunt. Through the magic of editing, she is restored to her intact state, much to the delight of the audience. Shortly thereafter, she sleepwalks her way to a restaurant, where she is mysteriously found in the same mutilated state that the show presaged. A local daytime teevee hostess, Sherry Carson, is fascinated with Montag's performance, and begs him to appear on her show. She attends each night's performance at Montag's behest, and after every performance, the woman who took part in the stage act turns up dead in the same hideous state predicted by Montag's show. Sherry's boyfriend, sports writer Jack, is suspicious of the magician right from the first death, but Sherry is hell-bent on getting Montag onto her show. It becomes increasingly clear that Montag has nothing good in mind for his teevee appearance, and it's a race against time, logic, sanity, and good taste to stop him from completing his fiendish plan.
I'll be honest--this movie is kind of a hott mess. It's as charmingly awkward in staging and performance as one might expect from an HG Lewis movie, but this just makes the gruesome-yet-fake-looking violence all the more startling when it occurs. There's the typical playful (actually rather hateful) banter between Sherry and Jack, but their bickering passes unfunny and comes right around to being unintentionally hilarious,. Montag is almost as awesomely unconvincing a villain as "Blood Feast's" Fuad Ramses. His overstated gestures of thoughtfulness, cunning, and eeeeevil are a riot to watch. Actor Ray Sager was allegedly a last-minute substitution into the role, and while this isn't entirely surprising, I am glad he wound up appearing on screen.
We come from an alternate dimension of tea, gender imbalance, and simmering hostility.
The art direction is equally camp. Naturally, everyone is decked out in the finest poly-blend fabrics and there are frames of film that positively buzz with competing patterns and color schemes. My favorite moments are in Sherry and Jack's living room, a blue-walled space that makes it appear as if our fearless leads are conversing in limbo.
This kind of silly atmosphere makes the scenes in which Montag mutilates living women with swords, spikes, and industrial machinery really squirm-inducing. The effects work isn't realistic by any stretch of the imagination, but just thinking about someone *doing* what is shown on screen is pretty damn nauseating. The scene in which Montag drives a spike through the head of his victim is punctuated by an extended close-up shot of the magician trying to pull the eyeballs out of her face. It's touches like these that make this an example of gore entertainment that the minds behind the Grand Guignol would appreciate. Even this is rendered bizarrely understated by the incredibly hyperbolic descriptions of the victims' bodies that the cops give at various points in the film. Heads are described as lying FIVE FEET AWAY from bodies, when the scene-actual shows a lady covered in raw meat and tempera paint.
"I can't hear you over his tie!"
There's the not-so-small matter of nothing in the movie making a lick of sense, though. It was doubtless intentional that the audience be thrown off between what's happening as part of the act and what's happening in the reality of the film, but nothing was executed with enough artistry to elevate the goings on past "just plain confusing." I understood what was supposed to be happening, but it simply didn't work within the narrative.
The 2007 remake of this weird little flick selects several elements to keep, while discarding others. Unfortunately, "The Wizard of Gore" 2007 stays true to the "not making a damn bit of sense" element that the original insisted upon while somehow managing to make things yet more brainfuckling. There's a lot more eyecandy here, both in terms of cast and art direction, so I can forgive a certain number of narrative shortcomings.
The setup is similar to that of its predecessor: Montag the Magnificent is an elusive figure (played here by Crispin Glover in creepily glorious Crispin Glover style) performing his extreme, gross-out illusions at an underground rave/carnival party in LA. After delivering some moralizing speechification about the nature of reality and how we all wear masks to disguise our true natures, Montag selects a woman from the audience and proceeds to saw her open from behind a foggy pane of glass. When the glass suddenly becomes clear and Montag is still elbow-deep in her innards, the house lights go out--only to be lit again to reveal Montag in a pristine white suit with a very much un-mauled Suicide Girl by his side. As is the case in the HGL original, the young lady winds up dead and mutilated in a manner identical to the one she found herself in during the stage show, and subsequent nights of Montag's performance lead to subsequent victims.
In the 2007 remake, teevee hostess Sherry is replaced by zine editor and nightlife personage Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) who is drawn to the mystery of Montag's show and finds himself rather closer to the action than he'd like. Edmund has a dark secret that shadows his relationship with girlfriend Maggie (celebutante Bijou Phillips), but he's suffering from amnesiac episodes that leave him unable to remember the truth. With the assistance of his morgue attendant pal Jinky and Eastern herbalist Dr. Chong (Brad Dourif, thankfully not in yellow-face), Edmund tries to unravel these puzzles. This is all the lead-up to a plot twist, which has another twist, and ultimately leaves one scratching one's head and wondering if the script writer shouldn't have sacrificed some complexity in favor of overall cohesion.
This complexity of the story is matched by a sometimes-over-art-directed aesthetic. While I appreciated the dutch angles, dynamic camerawork, and saturated colors, I wasn't nearly so keen on the sound in this film. "The Wizard of Gore" is one of the most over-foleyed movies I have ever seen. Everything that happens on-screen seems to have a corresponding sound effect, and I found this to be incredibly distracting. There's an energetic editing style that works more frequently than it doesn't, though at least a quarter of the post-edit effects work feels superfluous and needlessly complicated. Really, if there was a single defining quality to this movie, it would be that of being "needlessly complicated." In look and feel, it's like a more cracked-out version of the first "Saw" movie.
Dude, I've BEEN to this party, and it always ends in tears. Or at least being cruised by an adult baby.
That last statement shouldn't be interpreted as a negative--in fact, I felt the first "Saw" movie could've done with being significantly more cracked-out! I quite enjoyed the carnival and performance scenes in "Wizard of Gore," and would definitely attend that Boschian hell-party if I had the opportunity. Much like a dear friend of mine who will meet her end when a man in an unmarked van lures her in with promises of kittens and hedgehogs that need to be sorted, my last words will probably be something along the lines of "I know he's crazy, but that's a great suit--besides, there's open bar at this party. Call the cops if I'm not home by 4pm tomorrow."
Speaking of great suits, the costume design in this movie is pretty damn sweet. Edmund's 1940s noir affectations add a weird-but-cool texture to the tale, and of course the Suicide Girls are dressed (and undressed) to impress. The makeup artist exhibited a zeal for his work, particularly on Jeffrey Combs, who plays a maggot-eating sideshow geek that could easily pass for Rob Zombie's nuttier brother. I had to check the credits to see which character he'd played--I'm a fan and didn't recognize him at all! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Montag appears to be wearing the same Groinal Enhancement favored by Jared the Goblin King in "Labyrinth." Whose decision this was, I do not know, but once noticed, it cannot be un-noticed.
Both versions of "The Wizard of Gore" are terrible and un-terrible in their own ways, and exhibit the characteristic strengths and downfalls of the eras in which they were made. HGL's "Wizard" is a creaky, pulpy mess while director Jeremy Kasten's remake is overly slick and sometimes verges on cynical. Perhaps best enjoyed as companion pieces, these movies rank as solid--if not exemplary--horror flicks that genre fans should enjoy.