Directed by Jeremy Kasten
The Wizard of Gore is a phantasmagoric journey into a gloomy carnival milieu where a fiendish magician named Montag (Glover) appears to be slaughtering people on stage. But somehow, even though the murders are extremely graphic and barely masked by a peculiar smokescreen contraption, the men and women return alive before the shaken but relieved audience only seconds later.
Enter amateur journalist and layabout trust-funder Edmond Bigalow (Pardue), a curious type who can’t seem to accept the trickery as mere sleight of hand. Before long, his snooping attracts the attention of the sinister Montag and things rapidly start to get very confusing. Are the (mostly female) victims dead or not when we see them right after the show? Who is really doing the killing? Is it Montag, Bigalow, or Montag’s creepy geek assistant? Or a brothel keeping, dope dealing slugbaiter (Brad Dourif)? Are the staged deaths merely a part of the show, the real bodies cropping up around the city a part of some devious sorcery involving time displacement? Is any of it even happening at all?
Edmond Bigalow’s sanity disintegrates as he attends more Montag shows, leading to an increasingly bizarre and incomprehensible series of hallucinatory states. And this whole angle, the confusion, is the film’s fatal flaw. It all gets really disconnected and there are way too many vague elements stirred into what is already a highly cryptic narrative. This was likely meant to be a leadup to a real headfuck of a surprise ending, but unfortunately it was more a headache by the time the last reel of the film was playing. It wasn’t just me who thought the movie was confusing and impossible to figure out – I couldn’t find anyone else who had seen the film who fully “got it”.
It’s too bad, because there’s quite a lot to like. Crispin Glover is fantastic as Montag – his distinct, twitchy persona is perfect for this macabre role. But there just isn’t enough Montag in the film. The latter half of spends far too much time following Bigalow around and focusing on his deteriorating mental state.
There’s nothing wrong with doing a confusing cinematic headfuck per se. Think of Videodrome, how the end reel became one giant grotesque hallucination, and it was near impossible to pinpoint when reality was removed the narrative context. The all-important difference was that James Woods was playing a highly engaging, fascinating, and unforgettable character. In The Wizard of Gore, Bigalow isn’t really interesting enough for us to care why he’s having a mental breakdown, or why he’s hallucinating, or why he would take such a huge interest in Montag.
What would have been ideal here was a highly clever but succinct twist ending, more in line with the conclusion of The Prestige, a reveal that instantly makes everything that was mega-confusing prior make total, instantaneous sense. The original The Wizard of Gore wasn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow, ultra literate cinematic storytelling, so it seemed odd to try and complicate the narrative on the remake.
The good things about this movie are well worth mentioning though. The budgetary limitations don’t get in the way of director Jeremy Katzen cultivating a highly atmospheric and weird dark carnival atmosphere, the heart of which (Montag’s magic show) is revisited plentifully over the course of the film. These parts never get dull – a lot of that has to do with the inventive theatrical slayings Montag executes and Glover’s creepy take on the demented magician character. The audience is a never-endingly strange costume party (love that chick in the banana suit!). The dubious credit of having The Suicide Girls as a near top billed cast listing turns out to be a pleasantly effective if trashy touch, there’s a pleasing fill of T&A – although the dark blue-ish lighting makes the main selling point of these ladies a little more obscure visually, more artful. The camerawork is consistent in its wonky perspective. I can’t think of a single shot that wasn’t at least slightly off kilter, and there were some nice blur and color effects that helped establish a tangible sense of delirium.
But in the end, for this reviewer the end impression of The Wizard of Gore ultimately comes down to the frustration of leaving the viewing not really knowing what the hell was going on, and the movie running a little too long.
2 1/2 out of 5
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