"An Astounding Walk Down the Bloody Corridors of the Occult!"
In The Wizard Of Gore, the second last of H.G. 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, and while Crispin Glover is awesome, the remake doesn't hold a candle to the original even if Lewis definitely made better and more entertaining gore films than this one.
Note that the disc that this film is presented on does appear to mirror the disc that was included in the Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast boxed set that came out through Arrow Video two years ago..
The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and while it shows some minor print damage, and occasionally stronger damage, throughout it's more than watchable and a nice upgrade over the past DVD edition. Colors look pretty good, reds in particular of course, while flesh tones appear natural throughout. The image is free of any noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc shows no problems with compression artifacts.
Audio is presented in English language LPCM Mono with optional subtitles presented in English only (selectable from your remote but not off of the main menu). Sound quality is fine, is low-fi in nature. Hiss is evident occasionally, sometimes more evident than others depending on the scene, but for the most part the track is clear enough and properly balanced.
The main extra is the inclusion of a second feature in the form of How To Make A Doll.. Made in 1968, the film introduces audiences to a man named Percy Corley (Robert Wood). He's a smart guy, a mathematician by trade, but when it comes to hitting it off with the fairer sex, Percy is a big ol' zero. He complains often to his mother (Elizabeth Davis again) that girls just don't want anything to do with him, and he's right. It might have something to do with the fact that he drives a tiny little red car.
Thankfully for Percy, his pal Dr. Hamilcar West (Jim Vance) has invented a new type of computer that has a lot of blinking lights on it. He keeps this in a room with lots of wood paneling and knick-knacks scattered about in an effort to convince us that this is a high-tech science lab. It doesn't work, but getting back to it, this computer… it can basically create anything the user tells it to. And what does Percy want more than anything? A beautiful woman to call his own, of course! It takes a few tries (the machine spits out a rabbit and then a transvestite!) but soon enough Percy is the proud new owner of his very own nymphomaniacal dream girl (Bobbi West).
Percy learns quickly in the ways of love and before you know it, he's gone from zero to hero in this newly created reality that he somehow enters through one of those big hairdryers that goes over your head. He finds himself in all manner of sexy predicaments, the kind that require him to service the bevy of beauties that Lewis parades around in front of the camera. Percy, though… he needs more. He's having fun but he knows this isn't real. When he rejects his robotic lady friends, they persist and a weird scuffle of sorts winds up breaking his spectacles. It's then that he meets Agnes (West again), a mild mannered college girl who may or may not be exactly what he's been looking for all this time.
How To Make A Doll is hardly a feminist statement, in fact, it's pretty dire in that regard portraying pretty much all of its female characters as little more than receptacles for male pleasure. Never mind the fact that most of them are robots! At the same time, they men in the film are complete dolts, so the picture is an equal opportunity offender in that regard, and if you came to an H.G. Lewis film looking for political correctness in the first place? Nah, that'd never happen.,p>Quickly paced and full of pretty ladies this is a cheaply made nudie cutie (that is suspiciously devoid of nudity, basically rendering it all delightfully pointless) that offers up slim characterizations, loads of bad clichés and plenty of stupid, but somehow still funny, sight gags. If that weren't enough, none other than Brad Grinter has a small supporting role in the picture as Agnes' father (yes, Brad Grinter… nudist and star of the mighty Blood Freak!). He might be credited as Brett Jason Merriman but it's him.
All in all, How To Make A Doll is an irredeemably awful film and as such, completely worth checking out for fans of Lewis' screwy output.
There's more though! There is a The Wizard Of Gore commentary track where Lewis is joined by Something Weird Video 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.
From there, check out Stephen Thrower On The Wizard Of Gore. Here the author of Nightmare USA spends ten minutes talking about his thoughts on the film, noting that it was the first gore film Lewis had made in a few years. From there he goes on to put the film into context alongside his other pictures, talks up some of the performances and set pieces and gives his thoughts on the picture itself. Along the way he offers up plenty of interesting facts about the film's history, locations and origins.
Also be sure to check out Montag Speaks, which is a brand new twenty minute interview with Wizard Of Gore actor Ray Sager who prefaces everything by stating that what he's about to say is ‘mostly true.' From there we're treated to an excellent piece where the actor talks about how he got involved with Lewis, what it was like working with the guy, what Allison Louise Downe brought to some of the films he was involved in (he describes her as Herschell's right hand woman), how Colonel Sanders is connected to all of this and loads more. Lots of great stories here about the different Lewis projects he was involved in over the years all told with a knowing sense of humor and wit.
The Gore The Merrier is a seven minute interview with Jeremy Kasten, director of the 2007 Wizard Of Gore remake who talks about the blood thirst inherent in humanity, how gore and humor can often times go hand in hand and from there how he got into Lewis' movies, his thoughts on the man's films, how it used to be quite tough to find them and then, of course, how he came to remake Wizard years later.
The highlight of the extras on this disc, however, is the inclusion of The Incredibly Strange Film Show: Herschell Gordon Lewis "The Godfather of Gore" which is a forty minute episode of the Jonathan Ross-hosted television series. Obviously the focus here is on Lewis' filmography and here we get some great dialogue with Ross going one on one with Lewis as well as interviews with David F. Friedman, actor Bill Kerwin, John Waters and a few others. There are loads of clips from various Lewis efforts in here and even if everything covered here is covered elsewhere in the set, this is a blast to watch.
A trailer for The Wizard of Gore rounds out the extras on this disc along with menus and chapter selection
Arrow's Blu-ray release of The Wizard Of Gore is a good one, a fine choice for Lewis fans who don't already own the boxed set. It offers two of his quirkier films in nice shape and with a solid array of extra features as well. Recommended.