The latest the strange trend of remaking/updating/sequels to old H.G. Lewis gore films is director Jeremy Kasten's take on The Wizard Of Gore, a film originally shot on a micro-budget by director/producer Lewis way back in 1970. The results, sadly, do not hold up very well despite some great casting choices and a couple of inspired gore scenes.
A journalist named Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) is always on the look out for the next big thing. When he and his girlfriend, Maggie (Bijou Phillips), attend a gothish party at a warehouse one night, he's intrigued to hear of a magician named Montag The Magnificent (Crispin Glover) who just so happens to be performing that very night. The pair attend the performance, where the opening act is a man known as Geek (Jeffrey Combs) who warms up the audience by eating bugs. Edmund is unimpressed but when Montag comes out and performs an illusion where a girl is maimed and killed on stage so convincingly, it's safe to say that the magician has his full attention. If the performance weren't strange enough, it turns out that the girl whom he 'pretended' to kill that night has been found dead, murdered in a manner all too similar to Montag's illusion.
As nights pass and Montag performs a few more times, Edmund begins to suspect that the rash of murders has to be directly linked to the strange magician and his assistant. He begins investigating the performances with a little bit of help from his friends Jinky (Jason Joshua Miller) and Dr. Chong (Brad Dourif) but what he thinks he knows about Montag is only the tip of the iceburg...
You've got to give credit to director Jeremy Kasten and writer Zach Chassler as you get the impression that their hearts were in the right place. They at least made an effort to add some depth and character development to the story and even played around with a few recurring themes, toying around with the very idea of what makes an illusion reality. Unfortunately, the film has no soul. You can fill your movie with as many Suicide Girls and faux-punk/goth/metalhead/Rob Zombie-wanna-be-alterna-rockers as you like but that doesn't instantly make the picture interesting, rather, it makes it look like a bad music video, a problem that is made all the worse by the strange digital post production effects layered over a couple of scenes and a few bits that are edited to resemble some sort of mental freak out resulting in a rather ugly and overtly digital looking picture.
To the film's credit, it is well cast. Glover is a great choice to play a character like Montag, but here his performance is just not quite weird enough, particularly if you know how capable of getting weird he really is. While restraint can often be a good thing, Glover almost seems like he's phoning it in here, he doesn't throw himself into the role as he has in the past with films like Willard and Bartleby. Pardue and Phillips look the part of the curious couple but don't quite fit the mold, their intentionally jaded performances feel forced. Combs is wasted in his supporting role, hidden under make up and a bad wig, and the only notable cast member who really stands out here is Brad Dourif, who to his credit does a great job as a strange practitioner of alternative medicine.
The film really should have been a lot better than it was. Casting Glover in the lead was in and of itself a great idea and a perfect choice, but sadly the film never really catches fire. The gore is plentiful but so much of it is heavily digitized and soulless that it lacks much impact and as such, the film becomes tedious and dull.
The Wizard Of Gore is presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, properly flagged for progressive scan playback. While the disc is well authored on a technical level, the film has gone through a lot of post production digital tweaking and certain scenes are meant to look washed out and grainy. Color reproduction is inconsistent in that certain scenes look nice and natural while others look almost bleached out. Again, this is a stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers and its safe to say that this transfer represents the movie as they wanted it to be seen.
The only audio track on this disc is a rock solid English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that comes with optional subtitles in Spanish and with optional English closed captioning. Surrounds are used well during the 'grand guignol' style murder scenes and they add some atmosphere to the proceedings at a few key moments. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the levels are all well balanced. All in all, the audio is quite good on this release.
First up is a group commentary track with director/editor/producer Jeffrey Kasten, writer Zach Chassler, producer Dan Griffiths, cinematographer/producer Christopher Duddy, and assistant editor/associate producer Maxx Gillman. This commentary stands as a record of the first time that any of these gents had seen the complete unrated version of the film. This is actually a fairly enjoyable discussion as they talk about what the differences are between the R-rated version and the unrated version of the film while enjoying some Bushmills together. They talk about what it was like working with the notoriously odd Crispin Glover (and why he has a cod piece on in the movie) as well as working with the Suicide Girls. They talk about what they were trying for with the film and how they feel about the finished product. They don't spend too much time covering Lewis' original movie, rather the focus is on their updating of that picture. There are some amusing stories told here (much of the film was shot in the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown LA) and the entire group is quite involved in the talk with Kasten leading the group. Despite the quality of the film, this commentary is actually quite enjoyable.
From there, check out the featurettes starting with The Making Of The Wizard Of Gore (24:08). This lengthy documentary features interviews with the key cast and crew members including Glover, Phillips, Dourif and Combs as well as a wealth of behind the scenes and test footage. It's a reasonably interesting look at the production and it does provide some actual substance beyond the generic talking head EPK style supplements that are so common on DVDs. More specific in nature is Behind The Screen: A Look The Effects Of The Wizard Of Gore (13:08) which obviously covers the special effects used throughout the movie, both the old school 'organic' effects and the computer generated ones. There's some interesting test footage and behind the scenes footage here in addition to interviews with the cast and the effects techs who worked on the picture. From Volunteer To Victim (13:21) is a look at how and why a bunch of Suicide Girls wound up in the film by way of some interviews with the girls and with director Kasten.
Rounding out the extra features are eight deleted scenes available individually or by way of a handy 'play all' button (26:19 combined). Katsen introduces each clip and explains why it was removed. Some of this material is actually worth watching as it gives us a bit more time with Glover's character as well as with Combs' character. Also found on the disc are some outtakes (3:45), four storyboard to film comparisons, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter stops.
Despite a great cast and an interesting premise, this remake of The Wizard Of Gore never manages to gain enough steam or really take off. Dimension has supplied plenty of extras and the presentation is alright but the film is a bore. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.