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The penultimate film in Herschell Gordon Lewis's long, disreputable career was 1970's "The Wizard Of Gore". I had heard tales of the film for many years, reading many dissertations on it's alleged "total lack of merit", and having my head filled with images of gore, of such punishing, brutal quality, that it was something I would pay to see - at any cost. That cost turned out to be $70, after scanning the racks at a store in Melbourne, Australia and seeing it lying incongruously at the bottom. My eyes lit up. My heart pounded in my chest, and I grabbed the DVD, almost threw the money at the cashier, and dashed home.

Wizard Of Gore, The
Movie
"The Wizard Of Gore" is the story of Montag The Magnificent, a magician who does the traditional "saw a lady in half" type tricks onstage. The film's big hook is that the tricks actually happen a few hours after the show. No, it makes no sense, and yes - that is pretty much the extent of the plot. Oh, there is some ham fisted attempt at a detective story in which a pair of lobotomised audience members try to discover the truth about Montag's insidious shows, but your Uncle Herschell - possibly quite wisely - discovers that such a thing requires "characters" and "narrative". The film is, essentially, a series of violent, disgusting set pieces, thinly tied together by a plot that would blow away if the wind were strong enough.

When reviewing a film such as "The Wizard Of Gore", it becomes necessary to avoid normal methods of criticism, and adopt a new perspective on the film. After all, to use the same tools in the examination of this - a defining moment in exploitation film - as we would use to deconstruct "Taxi Driver" would be completely futile. "The Wizard Of Gore" is, by design, a film in which the content takes precedence over the form - what is IN the film is more important than what the film actually is. If you are sitting at home one night, and think to yourself - "A film. Yes. I'd like to watch a film", this is not the sort of thing that, presumably, the average person would hire. While, at one point, it may have been intended for mainstream distribution, it now rests in the hands of people like us - genre fans, gore hounds, and renegade film critics.

That is not to say that "The Wizard Of Gore" is not without merit. The gore is as ludicrous as ever - great, chunky globs of blood and entrails are ripped out of women, swords are driven down their throats, heads are sliced off, all in as much brutal, savage detail as you can imagine. It is violent and misogynistic, certainly - but at the same time, it takes on a primal, surreal quality that is quite intoxicating, if you allow yourself to disconnect from the fact that you are watching something that, on the face, is so abhorrent. Ray Sager's "Montag" is an amusingly overblown creation - he spends most of the film's running time reeling off literally endless streams of nearly incomprehensible babble about "reality" and "the nature of illusion". The other roles could have been played by my refrigerator, and a small pile of burning sticks respectively - and probably achieved a higher calibre of acting. The film's structure is also interesting for a film of this type - it moves back and forward between illusion and reality, and - eventually - toys with the idea of watching the film as an illusion. Whether this is some kind of preposterous attempt at a proto-post-modern slant on the proceedings, or a genuine attempt to elevate the film above the constraints of the genre is something that Herschell only knows.

Wizard Of Gore, The
As bizarre as this may sound, I am going to go out on a limb and say that despite the non-stop carnage and savagery of "The Wizard Of Gore", the film still retains a kind of innocence. It has the same qualities that mark the best genre films - it doesn't understand how bad it really is, it honestly seems to think that it is freaking you out, and it never winks at the camera. It is a relic from a time gone by - a film like this would NEVER be made today, in the age of "Scream" and "You Know What I Did Last Summer". And that is, in some strange way, a real shame.

Video
"The Wizard Of Gore" is presented in 1:33:1 full-frame, NTSC, and despite the appearance of multiple scratches and blemishes, it looks as good as it possibly can given the age of the source material, and the fact that exploitation films such as this have not been stored in the pristine condition that we might imagine the output of Paramount has. The colour is a little washed out but - again - this has more to do with the quality of the source material.

Audio
The sound is recorded in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, and - while sounding a little muffled - is perfectly fine for a film of it's vintage. The commentary track, with Mike Vraney and Herschell Gordon Lewis is in Dolby 1.0, and my main criticism would be that there is a third member of the commentary team who for some ludicrous reason is not miced - his contributions being incredibly difficult to hear, as they are being picked up by Lewis and Vraney's microphones.

Extras
Commentary
Here, genre fans will be rubbing their hands together with glee. A feature length commentary with Herschell Gordon Lewis, in which he discusses - in an amusingly self-deprecating fashion - every element of the film's production, from the recasting of Montag, to the unfortunately aborted "ultimate gore effect", which was originally going to be a sheep carcass torn to pieces onscreen. We can but dream.

Herchell Gordon Lewis Gallery of Exploitation Art
Another gallery of fliers, posters, marquees, and advertisements pertaining to Lewis's output. Interesting, yet there is a great deal of overlap between this and the galleries on Lewis's other DVD's.

Trailer
A must-see. A strange man stands in front of the camera, waffling on about Lewis's "The Gruesome Twosome" as "the wildest movie ever filmed". He then advises those in the audience with weak hearts to leave the auditorium, before showing scenes from the film. The trailer is in appalling condition, yet considering the fact that it was probably rolled up in someone's shoe, which was then left in a damp, smelly locker for 30 years, it is a miracle that we have it at all.

Wizard Of Gore, The
Overall
It is "The Wizard Of Gore" - A maniacal classic. A brutal, upsetting, mindless gallery of carnage. A misogynistic, outrageous gore fest. I love it. Something Wierd Video's "Special Edition" is truly a wonderful package - Herschell's commentary is hysterical, and the film looks as good as it possibly can.


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