Low-budget sensationalist Herschell Gordon Lewis unleashed more cheaply rendered cinematic bloodshed with The Wizard of Gore, a dreary and unpleasant thriller that borrows liberally from House of Wax (1953), which was itself derived from previous films and stories. Per the formula set by those earlier projects, The Wizard of Gore concerns a showman who gets away with killing people onstage until suspicious audience members threaten to upset his evil schemes. Specifically, Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) does a regular theater show, inviting women onstage and murdering them in horrible ways before magically restoring them to perfect health. Days later, however, the women die of the wounds that Montag inflicted upon them, so his magic merely delays the fatal effects. Even setting aside the supernatural aspect of the premise, the question of why audiences tolerate what appear to be genuine onstage killings remains unanswered, despite Lewis’ feeble lip service to the idea that Americans crave spectacle. (Hiding behind social commentary is a favorite tack when filmmakers seek to imbue schlock with legitimacy.) The splatter in The Wizard of Gore is too silly-looking to be terrifying, as when Lewis substitutes an obvious mannequin for a scene of driving a spike through a woman’s skull, but it’s possible to be repulsed by the intentions if not the results. Even with the film’s kitsch elements—flimsy production values, stilted dialogue, wooden acting—it’s the usual ugliness of treating the brutalization of women as entertainment. Yes, leading lady Judy Cler is attractive; yes, the tone-deaf transitions between lighthearted scenes and “spooky” bits are unintentionally funny; and, yes, Sager’s leading performance is stunningly awful. So what? For anyone who cares about such things, The Wizard of Gore was remade in 2007, and Crispin Glover essayed the Montag role in that version.
The Wizard of Gore: LAME