If you never had any reason to be suspicious of magicians, well, strap in for "The Wizard of Gore." Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1970 cult splatter fest introduces us to Montag (Ray Sager), a vicious virtuoso with a seemingly psychic link to his audience. As his skeptical patrons look on, he prompts random "volunteers" (usually of the buxom and blonde variety) to participate in his nightly show- stopper. Seemingly hypnotized, these poor women are strapped in place as the titular wizard appears to make mince meat of their fine figures. But wait, there's more! After playing around with their guts, Montag sends them back into the audience, and back to their evening they go, inexplicably turning up dead the next day. Lather, rinse, repeat. After watching this about three or four times, a TV reporter and her boyfriend (Judy Cler and Wayne Ratay) launch an impromptu investigation into the wonders of Montag's wizardry. Is it all an illusion? Or is he a maniacal, if inventive serial killer?
Shot with all the precision of a drunk dad filming a grade-school talent show, "The Wizard of Gore" is an admittedly cheap affair. Lewis clearly spent what little budget he had on the gore effects (read: re-purposed sheep carcasses) and left little room for hiring actors or a competent director of photography. This doesn't work against the film. If anything, the lack of refinement only adds to its charm. The gore looks real because, well, it is real, and the lead actors have chemistry even as they try not to giggle their way through the whole thing. Judy Cler, in particular, deserves an honorary Oscar for carrying the weight of the film on her shoulders. She is in turns funny and feisty, and proves to be a worthy adversary for Sager's smug svengali. Sager, for his part, does his best as he gleefully toys with his participants' giblets. It's all a little revolting here in 2017, especially a scene in which a metal spike is put through a woman's head while Montag roots around in her eye sockets. So, needless to say, it shocked audiences back in the day who somehow stumbled upon it by misfortune or fate, just as it will you, should you choose to settle in with it some bored, sleepless night.
"The Wizard of Gore" is a schlocky shocker of the highest variety. True, it's not for everyone, but Lewis was clearly onto something here. Birthing a style that Tobe Hooper would turn onto the mainstream a few years later and which Rob Zombie would... well, whatever Rob Zombie is doing these days, Lewis eschews standard film-making conventions for something more efficient, effective and downright surreal than the average exploitation fare. Don't be surprised if you find yourself needing a shower afterwards, but if nothing else, this "Wizard" does not fail to entertain.