Friday, February 3, 2023

‘The Wizard of Gore’ – Only Crispin Glover Shines in 2007’s Herschell Gordon Lewis Update [Revenge of the Remakes]

To say Herschell Gordon Lewis‘ and Jeremy Kasten‘s respective The Wizard of Gore releases pushed me to my limits is correct for all the wrong reasons. My choice to stack the 1970 original and 2007 remake back-to-back stands as one of my least favorite Revenge of the Remakes double-bills thus far. I’ve no objection to gore-forward perversions that assault audiences with repugnant visuals, unless their storytelling devolves from nonsense to unintelligible drivel from one title to the next. Even worse when one of the films can’t even sustain its titular “Gore” effects.

Lewis’ legacy as the Grandfather of Grossouts and Sorcerer of Sadistic Splatter isn’t lost on The Wizard of Gore, unlike Allen Kahn‘s screenplay, hacked apart and reassembled to maximize the grotesque kill sequences using sheep carcass guts. Kasten’s remake didn’t have to attain Kubrickian levels of storytelling to surpass its inspiration’s narrative cohesion, and yet writer Zach Chassler somehow pens an even more incoherent showcase of carnage. At least Lewis’ discombobulated tale of illusions and dismemberment was in the name of furthering Splattergore infamy using restricted 70s methodologies. Kasten revamps Lewis’ wicked wizardry decades later, yet fails even the repulsive practical signatures of Lewis’ immoral stage presentations.

The Approach

Wizard of Gore remake horror

‘The Wizard of Gore’ (1970)

Chassler’s concept for 2007’s The Wizard of Gore remake actually sounds sneakily innovative. In Lewis’ exploitation mutilator, sportswriter Jack (Wayne Ratay) initially suggests it’s a psychotic audience member slaughtering Montag the Magnificent’s (Ray Sager) “volunteers” after curtains close. Kasten and Chassler adopt this incorrect assessment as their attempt at reinvention, distancing themselves from Lewis’ emphasis on Montag’s hypnosis and the dizzying kaleidoscope finale that follows. There’s little connective tissue beyond a “wizard” and “gore” between the two films, which inspires hope compared to other copy-and-paste examples like Quarantine and [REC].

Kasten’s The Wizard of Gore thrusts Montag the Magnificent (Crispin Glover) into a post-punk Los Angeles drenched in aughts depravity. Ed Bigelow (Kip Pardue) survives on trust fund money as he publishes his underground newspaper, the Cacoffiny Gazette, reporting on all of LA’s fetishistic nooks and hedonistic crannies. A disheveled vagabond (Jeffrey Combs plays the maggot-eating “Geek”) hands Ed and his girlfriend Maggie (Bijou Phillips) tickets to a magic show, which brings them to Montag’s doorstep. The showman presents a trick that seemingly disembowels a stripper from the crowd, only to exhibit her alive and well afterward — before her corpse is discovered later with the same wounds Montag pretended to inflict on stage.

There’s a protagonist role reversal at play since talk show host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) swaps for the obnoxiously vintage Ed Bigelow. There are more pieces in play with the introduction of Chinatown scumlord Dr. Chong (Brad Dourif), Ed’s coroner contact “Jinky” (Joshua Miller), and the previously mentioned opening act, the hungry hobo himself, The Geek. Ed’s investigation leads him around Los Angeles’ shadier corners — mentioning dancers from nightlife staple Jumbo’s Clown Room — and into a much more tangled web of delusion.

Montag goes on with his show the same way as bodies pile, but Chassler attempts to include Ed as more than just a concerned party — not very well, either.

Does It Work?

Wizard of Gore remake crispin glover

‘The Wizard of Gore’ (2007)

The Wizard of Gore morphs into a pseudo-psychological thriller with splatter influences, highlighting the oddness of its rebirth. You’d presume a Herschell Gordon Lewis remake at the height of “torture porn” momentum would recontextualize the disgust audiences held towards Saw or Hostel. Kasten chases a more sleazebag-noir element that honors Los Angeles’ more exotic sensual desires — featuring the Suicide Girls of course — that lacks Lewis’ excruciatingly elongated murder vibes. Kasten includes and promotes alternate exploitations (Michael Jackson role players, bloody wrestlers), but the emphasized homages to Lewis’ practical effects excessiveness are missing in action.

Also missing is a thread that helps pull audiences through an even more careless stringing of plot developments. Ed’s inability to remember important, possibly case-breaking details is like Christopher Nolan’s Memento meets a softcore parody. The more Ed chats with Dr. Wong about Tetrodotoxin conspiracies, the more Jinky hurls evidence at Ed, and the more Montag rambles through monologues about flesh armors, the more Chassler’s screenplay disintegrates. Ed’s paranoid inner narration rambles on like a numbing drone as he anxiously inhales from a brown paper bag, supposedly to let viewers into the story’s hidden truths, yet only succeeding at layering more convolution atop inundating slipperiness.

Points are awarded for trying something outside the box, but deductions begin as soon as Ed’s bones start to annoyingly click like they’re brittle branches snapping underfoot. Christopher Duddy represents the fractures in Ed’s mind through cinematography that begins glitching what looks like virtual simulation walls as Ed scribbles clues into notebooks or warps background perspectives as Ed and Maggie sit statuesque and motionless. Steve Porcaro‘s Casio keyboard soundin’ score does little to elevate moods, as it all comes together like Ed’s Matrix is crashing and time’s running out for the film to connect all its dots in a sloppy haste. Entire scenes pass where Kasten barely understands where his film currently exists on the storyboard roadmap, but damned if anyone will ask for directions.

The Result

‘The Wizard of Gore’ (2007)

I’m partially (and sarcastically) impressed that someone could take The Wizard of Gore and make it worse. Lewis and Kahn leave oodles to be desired when it comes to their illusionist’s grand reveal that equates to the dreaded “it’s all but a dream” twist. Kasten and Chassler would have been applauded just for cleaning up the original’s scripted mess — yet they surpass dumbfounding plotlines with an even more aggressively senseless redo. Where Lewis barters in barbaric bloodlust that projects inhuman torture at a premium (commentary about society’s inability to look away from a trainwreck), Kasten chooses to inject uncomfortable sexual gratification and other distracting forms of exploitation as if Lewis’ old-school butchery wasn’t edgy enough for 2000s audiences.

It seems sacrilegious to remake a Herschell Gordon Lewis massacre with digital effects, and yet here we are, watching Montag wipe away animated blood spots from his torso. There’s some righteous gore when effects supervisors Elvis Jones and Jason Collins are allowed to open Victim #1 like a piñata filled with squishy organ treats for Montag to tear away with glee. There’s also too much killing done off-camera and digital workarounds when traps become too complicated (a bear trap decapitation). There’s more attention paid to goth raver costume designs — because how can we skimp on the Nazi-dressed audience member — while Lewis’ nauseating spectacle that claws out eyeballs and flings Pine-Sol-coated sheep chunks into actresses’ mouths is never outshone. Kasten rips the leaking heart and screaming soul from The Wizard of Gore, replacing it with computerized bits that might be faster but are in no way stronger.

You’re not watching Lewis’ films for acting masterclasses, which Kasten’s update keeps consistent — except for Crispin Glover. He’s the absurd white-suited master of ceremonies out of our fan-casting dreams. The way he introduces himself by squealing, “Sit down bitch! YOU, die tonight,” will bring a smile to anyone who desires to see Glover embrace the delicious weirdness of eccentric roles. He’s over-enunciating like a champion, projecting himself into your living room, and glows the unhinged personality of a magician who’s lost touch with moral expectations. Kasten’s The Wizard of Gore may be the worse production, but Glover dominates Montag the Magnificent comparisons.

The Lesson

‘The Wizard of Gore’ (1970)

Credit where credit is due, Jeremy Kasten and Zach Chassler exhibit proper remake practices from vastly altered storytelling to nailing Montag’s casting with the best possible choice. The Wizard of Gore is — on paper — an intriguing approach to remake filmmaking. Although, proper intentions only get you so far. Even with the right mindset, you must produce a movie people will enjoy watching on the basest cinematic levels of competence. That’s where Kasten and Chassler fail, possibly as poorly as the impossibly disastrous April Fool’s Day remake.

So what did we learn?

● While it’s partly about how you start, it’s also about how you finish.

● You should still honor the hallmarks of an original, even if your story veers in another direction.

● The 2000s has its share of stinker remakes amidst all the underappreciated gems.

● I’ll take deceased animal parts (sourced naturally) over pixelated blood any day.

There are still so many more popular horror remakes left for me to cover, but I chose The Wizard of Gore because I wanted something less expected and wholly new to myself. Reader, I’m not thrilled. Next month’s entry will be two comfort-as-hell watches because I need to wash the cleaning product taste out of my mouth. All the respect to Herschell Gordon Lewis and his pioneering slaughterhouse foundations — I just needed something more from storytellers. Doubly so from a remake that captures one of my favorite Crispin Glover uses — he is innocent — and jettisons the performance into unfortunate irrelevance since it’s shackled to one of the worst horror reimaginings in the game.

In Revenge of the Remakes, columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.

The post ‘The Wizard of Gore’ – Only Crispin Glover Shines in 2007’s Herschell Gordon Lewis Update [Revenge of the Remakes] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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