|release date||August 19 2008|
|starring||Crispin Glover, Kip Pardue, Bijou Phillips, Brad Dourif, Jeffrey Combs, Suicide Girls|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
Criticizing a horror movie for being bad is like condemning rum for its alcohol content. Most horror films are bad, it’s only a question of degree, and some of the worst are actually the most entertaining. It’s hard to say where “The Wizard of Gore” falls on the spectrum, however the strength of this gruesome little oddity lies squarely with Crispin Glover’s brilliantly weird performance as a creepy magician whose bloody illusions become retroactive reality.
The movie is a remake of the 1970 shocker by cult horror/exploitation filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis, whose original version is one of the most messily gory films ever made. In it, veteran Lewis player and sometime production manager Ray Sager starred as Montag the Magnificent, a fiendish magician who is able to alter the perception of his audience–and his victims–in order to inflict horrifying injuries that go undetected until long after the show is over. As a horror concept, it was one of Lewis’s most original and disturbing. (Interestingly, Sager wasn’t even supposed to be in the movie. He had signed on to do production work, and was only pressed into service as Montag after the original actor became so difficult to work with that Lewis fired him.)
In the new film, directed by Jeremy Kasten (“The Thirst,” “The Attic Expeditions,”), Crispin Glover–Johnny Depp’s evil twin on acid–plays the monstrous illusionist as part televangelist, part Las Vegas showman. With his white tuxedo and Ace Ventura pompadour, he certainly looks the part–except for the conspicuous bulging codpiece. The sly contempt with which Glover exhorts his audience is a subtle nod to Sager’s original Montag, and the breathless, near-orgasmic glee with which he eviscerates his victims is reminiscent of Udo Kier’s jaw-dropping sexual antics in Paul Morrissey’s twisted “Flesh for Frankenstein.” An almost unrecognizable Jeffrey Combs (“The Frighteners,” “Re-animator”) is on hand as Montag’s maggot-eating warm-up act, and horror veteran Brad Dourif turns in the one of the film’s most interesting performances as an eccentric Chinatown shaman.
The new film isn’t as nasty as the original, but contains enough well executed carnage to satisfy most gore hounds, and Glover’s surreal, over-the-top turn as Montag is sure to earn points. Were the rest of the film up to the level of Glover’s performance, it’s the sort of movie that might attract a modest cult following. Unfortunately, the best thing about “Wizard” is the trailer. The film appears to have gone so far off the rails, it’s doubtful that even Glover will be able to save it from straight-to-video hell.
The first problem with “Wizard” is the muddled script. Zach Chassler is credited as the writer, however these things are almost always collaborative efforts, so I suspect he can’t be entirely faulted. The storyline seems to be striving for Nolan brothers, but leaves the audience feeling confused and cheated. This is especially true of the ending, which seems rushed and haphazard. A villain as colorful and diabolical as Montag deserves a more spectacular denouement than the hurried afterthought it seems to be here. One senses that Kasten was hoping for something grander but may have run out of time and money.
The second problem with “Wizard” has to do with its unlikable characters. To expect the audience to accept an “O Henry” ending in which the hero turns out to be as despicable as the villain mightn’t have been as much of an imposition had there been at least one prominent character in the film who wasn’t insane or corrosively obnoxious. Bijou Phillips’s shrill, phoned-in performance as a bitchy girlfriend is hardly a career highlight, but may be understandable in light of her character’s love interest–a thuddingly inarticulate geek played by Kip Pardue, who comes off as sort of a poor man’s Matt Damon. Pardue plays a character named Edmund Bigelow, who harbors a baffling penchant (and we’ve all known somebody like this) for wearing fedoras, Clark Kent glasses, and 1940s apparel. Which might be endearing if he were the least bit charming or amusing, which he is not. What’s worse, he is prone to panic attacks, the only apparent remedy for which is to huff repeatedly into a crumpled paper bag, which he carries with him at all times. By the second or third occurrence of this unfortunate plot device, I was hoping Bigelow would asphyxiate so that Kasten could get on with his film.
In the age of Criss Angel and the gruesomely funny Penn & Teller, it was an ingenious idea to do do an updated version of “The Wizard of Gore.” But it says something about this film that Lewis’s original, bad as it was, is both gorier and more entertaining. As for Crispin Glover, “Wizard” will likely be another nail in the coffin of a once-promising acting career, while being remembered as the vehicle for his most darkly entertaining performance.