Hot on the heels of their Blood Trilogy Blu-ray release, Something Weird Video once again returns to the well that is the filmography of Herschell Gordon Lewis with a high definition double feature release of The Wizard Of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls. Here's a look at what you'll find, a daring expose on 'the maniac magician whose monstrous tricks actually work' and a film able to strip your nerves screamingly raw!
The Wizard Of Gore (1970):
In this, the second last of Lewis' original gore films, Ray Sagar plays a magician named Montag The Magnificent, a self proclaimed 'master of illusion' who has a knack for strange soliloquies and who, when we meet him, pulls a lovely female member of the audience up on stage to assist in a trick he'll perform for the crowd. The audience then sees the volunteer brutally murdered right there on the stage, but amazingly enough once the trick is over, she then appears completely unharmed and returns to her seat as happy as can be.
There's more to this, however, when the volunteers start turning up dead shortly after the trick has been completely. Bodies start piling up around town as a TV reporter, Sherry Carson (Judy Cler), who sat in on one of his shows tries to learn more about this magician. He refuses an interview but offers to perform a trick live on TV for her audience. She and her boyfriend, Jack (Wayne Ratay), start to suspect that Montag may be behind these murders after all, and with some help from another reporter, Greg (Phil Laurenson), start to try to put together the pieces of his mysterious past. Montag, however, has got big plans for his live TV debut...
As you'd expect from one of Lewis' gore films, the murder scenes here are the highlight. One woman has her stomach cut open by a chainsaw, another is murdered by a giant drill press, her intestines spilling out over the sides of her carcass, and of course, there's the big gooey finale that we won't spoil here. The storyline is flimsy and repetitive, basically stringing us along from one of Montag's performances to the next, but it's all made quite watchable by the enjoyably screwy performance of Ray Sagar in the title role. He delivers he speeches with such fiery wooden passion that you can't help but love the guy, even if you know he's up to no good. His makeup isn't done very well and he doesn't look nearly as old as the character is probably supposed to be (close up shots reveal the makeup appliances aren't staying on his face all that well!) but he does the best that he can and then some with the part and you've got to love him for it. The rest of the cast sort of fumble through the storyline as is typical in Lewis' movies and the movie is about ten to fifteen minutes longer than it should be but fans of B-horror pictures ought to have a good time with this one. Stylish? No, not in the least and made fast and cheap but not without some inspired scenes of creative carnage. The film was remade in 2007 with Crispin Glover as Montag.
The Gore Gore Girls (1972):
The last gore film Lewis would make (at least until he came out of retirement to make Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat in 2002) is really the only one of his pictures to mix the extreme gore with some sexualized angles resulting in what was arguably one of his most controversial films. The storyline follows Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell), a reporter for a paper called The Globe, as she accompanies a private investigator named Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) on a case. In order to convince him to take it, she has to offer him $25,000.00 up front and another $25,000.00 upon cracking it, but in return her paper gets exclusive rights to the story. And what story would that be? Well, a stripper named Suzie Cream Puff (Jackie Kroeger) was recently murdered and The Globe figures there's more to this than meets the eye.
So Abraham and Nancy hit the streets, stopping first at the peeler bar where Suzie used to work where they meet a cocktail waitress named Marlene (Hedda Lubin) who can dish up the attitude just as well as Abraham can. She doesn't offer much help but a $50.00 bill dangled in front of another stripper's face gets them heading in the right direction - a guy named Joseph Carter who had a thing for Suzie. They follow up on this lead which leads to other clues but while they're out snooping around town, a stripper named Candy Cane bites the dust. Gentry starts to suspect that a damaged Vietnam vet named Grout (Ray Sager) who has the strange habit of drawing faces on vegetables before crushing them on the bar of his favorite strip club might be the culprit - but the investigation is cut short by the intrusion of a group of militant feminists who storm the club. Eventually the owner of the strip club, Mr. Marzdone Mobilie (Henny Youngman), decides to hold a stripping contest which a drunken Nancy decides to enter. Gentry figures that this will lure the stripper killing maniac out of the shadows and help him catch him before he can kill again...
As restrictions regarding the theatrical display of sex films started to subside in the early 70s Lewis had to find a way to compete and with The Gore Gore Girls he decided to mix the gore films that had been successful for him with some naked ladies for maximum effect. The film, notorious for a scene in which a woman has her nipples cut off only to have a bloody lactation afterwards and for a scene in which a black woman has her face shoved into hot oil cooking french-fries, is a bit seedier than some of his other movies but it's all done with tongue placed firmly in cheek so it's hard to find it offensive by modern standards even if there's no doubt that it would have been quite shocking in its day.
Amy Farrell plays her reporter character as a bit of a ditz and you just know she's going for fall for Frank Kress' private detective even if he is an arrogant jerk. Both actors have fun with their parts and it's a kick to see Sagar pop up in this one again even if his work here isn't nearly as over the top as his performance in the earlier feature. Probably the weirdest aspect of the cast is the inclusion of Henny Youngman as the strip club owner. He sort of pops up out of nowhere, makes a few corny jokes and then lingers around in the background a bit but his appearance here definitely adds a certain something to an already screwy movie.
The Wizard Of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls both arrive on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1.78.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfers. All in all the transfers look pretty good for what they are. Expect to see the occasional vertical scratch here and there in both features as well as some other print damage throughout but those scratches aside, most of it is very minor. Grain levels look okay but some noise reduction has been applied and is more easily spotted in The Gore Gore Girls where some mildly waxy skintones show up. Detail is still vastly improved over the DVD releases, however, and colors look quite natural, with the deep reds of the gore scenes really leaping off the screen at times. In regards to the framing, there are those who will prefer the DVD's fullframe (open matte) presentations to these widescreen versions despite the fact that Lewis' movies reportedly played in widescreen theatrically (this writer has been Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs projected at 1.85.1). There are shots throughout both movies here where things look a little tight at the top and the bottom and shots where sometimes the tops of people's heads go missing where in the fullframe versions they did not. How much of this is due to the framing compared to how much of it is the result of Lewis being a fairly sloppy cameraman is debatable but both movies look pretty good here.
English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono tracks are provided for both features, though no alternate language or subtitle options are offered. Though we again see (or more accurately hear) an improvement over the previous DVD issues from Something Weird, there's still hiss throughout and the occasional pop on the mix. None of this is really too distracting or irritating but it is there - those expecting pristine audio from movies like these two are probably a little delusional, however. Overall though the dialogue is clear and easy to follow and the quirky scores that populate both movies have got some good bounce to them. More cleanup work probably could have been done here but for what they are the movies sound fine.
Lewis shows up for commentary tracks for both features, originally recorded for those DVD versions mentioned earlier in the review. For The Wizard Of Gore he's joined by SWV head honcho Mike Vraney for a pretty revelatory discussion about the history of the movie, his penultimate gore film, and its place in Lewis' filmography. Highlights include the casting of Montag and the difficulties involved in that process, what it was like putting together the various gore scenes used in the movie, the big finish involving a sheep's carcass that never came to be, locations, effects, response to the movie and what the market was like at the time it was made. The commentary for The Gore Gore Girls covers similar territory. Again joined by Vraney and Jimmy Maslin, Lewis is once again a veritable landslide of stories, talking about how he get into some trouble with the ratings board this time around, what he tried to do differently with this film as opposed to his other gore films, why he used certain actors and actresses in the movie and more. Throughout both tracks Lewis has got a great sense of humor about his work, never afraid to make a joke at his own expense or share a story that may not necessarily win him any accolades (he's quite honest about the quality of these movies and that they were a money making endeavor, not high art) and he is a blast to listen to.
Aside from the commentary tracks, we get a great gallery of Lewis related exploitation art and memorabilia and trailers (all in standard definition except where noted) for Blood Feast (HD), Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red (HD), The Godfather of Gore (HD), The Alley Tramp, Goldilocks And The Three Bares, The Gruesome Twosome, She-Devils On Wheels, Something Weird and The Wizard of Gore. No trailer for The Gore Gore Girls has been included here unfortunately. Static menus and chapter stops are provided for each movie.
Neither The Wizard Of Gore nor The Gore Gore Girls is Lewis' best work but for fans of the original American godfather of gore, they're fairly essential. Those new to his work will want to start with The Blood Trilogy but established fans of his work already know they need this release. The transfers are nice improvements over the DVD releases and the audio gets a slight upgrade too. As far as the extras go, there isn't much new here but the commentaries are carried over and are worth their weight in gold for those with an interest in Lewis' films. Easily recommended.
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.