Who Would Have Thought the Magician’s Assistant to Have Had So Much Blood in Her? Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Wizard of Gore, This Weekend

12/16/2011 3:41 PM |

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Herschell Gordon Lewis’s The Wizard of Gore screens Sunday night at the Museum of the Moving Image, as their Magicians on Film series continues.

In 1970 not one but two lambs were sacrificed on the altar of Herschell Gordon Lewis. For all of the damage wreaked, in his The Wizard of Gore, by cranky stage magician Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager)—with chainsaw, swords, and punch-press—two sheeps’ worth of blood and guts had to do.

Like his colleague in Oz, Lewis—himself the real-life Wizard of Gore—is a canny salesman: he’s the self-proclaimed father of direct marketing, though we’re more likely to recgonize his tenacity and doggedly persuasive pitch in the personas of his godchildren, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. Paracinema’s own Andy Warhol, Lewis had already served up Blood Feast in 1963, and continued with similar entrees throughout the 60s—but greater notoriety would never spur the sultan of splatter to be profligate with his budget.

And as far as it is possible to tell from 40 years’ distance, the sheep did fine. There’s some garnish of plot—a sports writer (Wayne Ratay) and his talk show host girlfriend (Judy Cler) attend the magician’s performances and grow increasingly suspicious, since Montag’s volunteers are later found murdered in ways identical to how they’d been dispatched on stage. Of course the main show are the “tricks” themselves, in which glassy-eyed young women are sawn and punctured before a rapturous audience; brains are extracted through ears, thumbs pushed through eye sockets and swords down gullets. Montag has a beef with reality, and indeed the damage here seems to exceed it—surely there’s not so much intestine coiled in there? But the superabundance of blood and guts is hardly a surprise—like the actors, we all know what we’re in for.