The Wizard of Gore

The Wizard of Gore poster

There can be no denying that Herschell Gordon Lewis was a unique and uncompromising if unconventional producer and director, determined to push boundaries and shock viewers with his ultra-low budget horrors, a provocateur not unlike the protagonist of his 1970 feature The Wizard of Gore, the tale of stage magician and mesmerist Montag the Magnificent, who clad in a red-lined black cape stands by his guillotine and presents his bizarre act.

“Oh, what a clever trickster he is,” Montag suggests the crowd might say of him, “what a sly deceiver,” but those volunteers selected from his audience to assist him in his illusions never live to recount the experience to their friends, all of them mysteriously and horribly killed within hours of curtain down, the inexplicable deaths mirroring the performance earlier that evening in which they participated as though awakening from a deadly dream.

The Wizard of Gore; Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) prepares his first "volunteer" for the performance.

Released in 1970 and shot in only two weeks for an estimated $60,000, equivalent to less than half a million today which would go significantly further without the need to purchase and process expensive film stock, the title role of The Wizard of Gore is played by Ray Sager, stepping in at the last moment when the contracted player walked out following a disagreement, with Judy Cler and Wayne Ratay as television presenter Sherry Carson and her boyfriend Jack Ward, a sports journalist.

Witnesses to the opening night of the Montag’s show where a woman is apparently sawn in half with a chainsaw, by coincidence they happen past the restaurant where she later collapsed, cut in two; attending the second night, a woman has a spike hammered into her head and she too later ties of a traumatic head injury, but feeling they do not have sufficient evidence to link the deaths directly to Montag the pair opt to investigate themselves rather than informing the police of their suspicions.

The Wizard of Gore; Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) invites Jack Ward (Wayne Ratay) on stage to examine the equipment.

The acting and camerawork stilted, likely as a result of the pressure to get the film in the can, Sager gives a dramatic and accentuated reading but while Allen Kahn’s script has interesting ideas, questioning violence in the media and how it effects those who are exposed to it, arguments pertinent to “the Godfather of Gore,” they are poorly expressed by the rushed performers, the idea that the strange reappearing bloodstains may represent guilt lost along the way and the loose dream logic of the whole expressed in the dialogue but killed dead by the flat production values.

Nor does it help that with multiple visits to his stage show the film is repetitive, Montag delivering the same introduction to his act, shot with the same angles, a case where “less patter, more splatter,” would be preferrable, and although Lewis undeniably delivers on the latter despite the sheer volume of blood and internal organs, actually animal rather than human, the result is so mechanical as to be tame, an observation rather than a terrifying experience, Sherry and Jack’s indifferent detachment a cold substitute for fear or revulsion.

The Wizard of Gore will be available on the Arrow platform from Friday 12th April

The Wizard of Gore; Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) leads Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) and her colleagues through the television studio to their doom.



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