It’s time for Sandy to fess up. I am, in fact, a bonafide fan of Herschell Gordon Lewis, hereafter inconsistently referred to as HGL. I witness HGL’s movies with begrudging awe. (We shall not speak of Monster a Go Go). I look forward to his next film, which, in classic hamhanded HGL lack of style, has two names – The Uh-Oh Show or Grim Fairy Tale.
I secretly admire his gall in simultaneously pandering to and sneering at his audience. I am amused by his greed and his benighted failures at humor. Once in a while, it is my opinion that the man actually produces an effective scene. In fact, the underlying concept behind the movie under consideration, The Wizard of Gore, is pretty neat.
Of course, Mr. Lewis annihilates potential success with inept technique. In this film for example, he goes artsy and psychological to disastrous effect. Inexplicably, one of the charms of HGL (for me) is that he never fails to let me down – he is always less than I expect. I realize this sounds contradictory, but my emotions for HGL are thick with cognitive dissonance.
I showed The Wizard of Gore as one of my entries in Tween Fest 2010 (the first and so far only one). At least one film-goer thanked me(!) His exact comment was along the lines of, “I’m glad you popped that particular cherry for me. Now I know how bad HGL sucks!”
I, of course, cackled with glee. After watching The Wizard of Gore, Ken Begg (Jabootu incarnate) remarked that, while Ed Wood truly loved movies, Herschell Gordon Lewis would probably be happy as a haberdasher if he made more money at it. In my heart of heart I wanted to contest this charge flung at my hero. For shame, Mr. Begg. To me, it’s clear the HGL is a movie guy.
Except … on HGL’s own website, he pushes himself as a master of Direct Marketing – his movies are just a sideline. HGL thus of course completely justifies Ken’s comments, and subverts and ruins my expectations. What a relentlessly hateful fellow. I feel like one of those pathetic women who keep going back to her abusive crackhead boyfriend. I tell myself “Tthis time things will be different.” Or “He wouldn’t hit me if he didn’t care.” “HGL wants me to like his movies, so, on some level, he must appreciate my needs.” Like a dog returning to its vomit, I load the DVD into my player and … thwack … get backhanded right across my deserving kisser. HGL makes it clear that I’m a worthless bitch who ought to be grateful he gives me even the sop of negative attention. *sigh*
The Wizard of Gore was one of HGL’s longest shoots – it took him three whole weeks. Normally he’d get the job in the can in two weeks or less. So I guess Wizard should be 50% superior to his other movies, right? Right?
[Future Sandy: actually it kind of is. At least it has almost exactly 50% more gore scenes than most of his oeuvre, and it features more settings. It also has more props, no doubt cadged from his production team. So I guess the protracted schedule had an effect. Ken of course might argue that more HGL doesn’t mean better HGL.]
Our movie begins. What do we see as the theater curtains part? More theater curtains! A cruddy little small-town community-theater stage where an obvious gofer sets up a cheap sign warning us of Montag the Magnificent’s imminent arrival. The sign is on a artist’s easel (possibly left over from Color Me Blood Red) – HGL’s niggardly heart doesn’t let him spring for a real stand. The film looks oddly off – I wonder what kind of inexpensive color processing he used.
HGL’s traditional lack of skill in setting up a title screen is apparent.
Onto the stage walks our antihero – Montag. He is played by Ray Sager, a man whom I pegged as the worst actor I’d ever seen when I first viewed this film back in the 1980s. My original opinion has not waned. Even the jaded Ken Begg, upon seeing Sager in action, was willing to admit that Sager was the worst actor he’d seen “in a leading role”. I was satisfied with that admission.
Ray Sager was part of the crew on Wizard of Gore, rejoicing in the mysterious title of Key Grip (no doubt Ken will explain what a Key Grip is, but really, who cares?*). Sager has put out a youtube video in which he claims to have actually “trained as an actor” (his words) but even HGL didn’t hire him as such!
[*Editor Ken: Grips are usually in charge of moving and placing cameras and attendant equipment like dolly tracks, as well as the various lights. The Key Grip is in overall charge of the various grips. A large-scale movie may have quite a few, often with discrete designated tasks. In the case of HGL, I'm assuming the title 'Key Grip' could be accurately exchanged with 'Only Grip.']
The original Montag was an older man in his 70s and quit after 3 days of shooting. Lewis was thunderstruck – “no one walks out on me!” he was reported to say, and I’m sure it’s true – people who were down enough in their career to work for Lewis were hardly picky. Lewis panicked – the people who’d rented him his venue were unhappy because he hadn’t told them it was a gore flick, and they wouldn’t extend his stay. If he had to find a new site, it would cost him money!! Anathema! In desperation, Lewis asked Sager to be Montag, offering him five times the cash he was making as Key Grip (probably still only a third as much as the original actor was getting). And a legend was born.
Sager didn’t know the script and learned each section the night before shooting, so he was invariably unsure of his lines (remember that on HGL’s abbreviated shooting schedule, probably quite a few pages had to be memorized at a time). Even Sager knew he stank as an actor, so he “channeled Richard Burton” (his words).
As has been pointed out by Jabootu and Michael Medved, Burton can be a massive hambone, and Sager “channeled” Burton at his least respectible. Imagine a nightmarishly bad actor trying to imitate Richard Burton at his worst, and you’ll have an inkling of what experiencing Sager as Montag is like. Seriously – Sager’s performance in The Wizard of Gore is to acting as The Giant Claw is to kaiju. It must be seen to be believed.
Sager’s overacting is so ripe that for days afterwards, the catch phrase among Tween Fest attendees was “Montaaaag!” said with the same emphasis as Sager’s. When he appeared on the screen at Tween Fest, my original plan was to watch the audience and giggle at everyone’s amazement.
But sadly, Sager’s personality is so magnetically awful my attention was drawn back to him – so my jaw dropped with everyone else’s, despite my familiarity with the topic. After all I’ve seen Wizard of Gore at least a half-dozen times, yet every time Sager is up there on screen mewling and gibbering, it is like Christmas – he’s riveting, like an obviously fatal car wreck, or watching the Cubs try to play their version of “baseball”. I just can’t look away.
Sager says on his youtube listing that he actually had skills as a magician and he’d made a living at it – when he was 10 years old. I think I’ll let that pass except to say that the magic displayed is solidly at the level displayed by ten-year-old kids.
Now Sager-as-Montag makes his appearance. He’s a guy in a cheap tuxedo, wearing a top hat and a red-lined cape. Gloriously, he wears brown loafers with his tux. He has some kind of white goop in his hair and mustache in a failed attempt to make him seem older, plus he has wrinkles obviously drawn onto his face.
I guess HGL wanted Sager to look as mature as his original Montag. At no point in the entire film is Montag’s age referenced. Why does he have to be an older man? And if he does need to be old, to fit HGL’s artistic vision (hah!) then why the heck did he ask a 21-year old kid to take the role? Seriously, throughout the whole picture Sager’s appalling fake makeup is distractingly terrible. The white stuff in his hair is especially bad. It’s patchy, for one thing, and when it is slopped on thick, it’s even more obvious.
Montag prances his way in front of a rickety fake guillotine, and gives a monologue which I feel an overpowering need to reproduce in its entirety,
I …. AM …. MONTAG! Master! Of Illusion. Defier of the laws of reason! A … magician, if you will. But then, what IS a magician? A person who tears asunder your rules of logic and crumbles your world of reality? So that you can go home and say [falsetto] ‘Oh what a clever trickster he is. [back to normal voice] What a sly deceiver!’ And go to sleep in the security of your own REAL world. [laughs ominously] WHAT is real? Are you certain you know what reality is? How do you know that at this second you’re not asleep in your bed, dreaming that you are HERE IN THIS THEATER! I know … it all seems too real. Well haven’t you ever had a dream that seemed so VERY real till you woke up? Then again, how do you know that you ever really did wake up? In fact, perhaps when you had thought that you were waking up, you had actually just begun to dream!? You see what I mean, don’t you? All your life, your past, your rules of what can or cannot be may ALL be part of one long dream from which you are about TO AWAKEN and discover the world as it really is.
Gripping stuff, no doubt. Montag then steps behind the guillotine, and sticks his head in the hole, laughing all the while. The starting credits (such as they are) appear and we get a good look at the guillotine he is using. There is no attempt to make the blade seem sharp in the slightest. Sparkles are painted onto the device’s sides.
The razor-sharp blade about to descend.
The blade slides down and Montag is decapitated as a really bad fake head rolls into a basket. The credits keep rolling. Here I’m going to give HGL some credit. Having a stage magician open his act by decapitating himself via guillotine would, in fact, be incredibly effective. I’d sure tell my friends about the show! Of course HGL does his best to spoil it with poor special effects, but I am a veteran of Star Trek and Doctor Who – I shrug off bad special effects like acid off a duck’s back. Wait … I think I got that analogy wrong. Anyway, you get the idea.
We now get a close look at the bloody, oozing stump of Montag’s neck. Our first gore scene! It’s clearly a real hunk o’ meat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look anything like a human neck. For one thing, it’s got two big tubes on opposite sides of the stump (one on the left, the other at the top) – neither of them look like an esophagus or spinal column. It’s just not a possible neck. Heaven knows what it is (one of my friends theorized a beef heart).
But it IS gory, and fits in the guilotine’s neck hole, so if you’re not a nit-picker, it works. Of course, if you’re not a nit-picker, why are you reading reviews on Jabootu’s site? A teensy bit of blood drools out of the “severed neck” like a really bad paper cut, or maybe a mild bloody nose.
Torrents of blood gush from Montag’s severed neck.
Oh jeeze, now he’s doing that spinning the screen thing he did back in She Devils On Wheels, I guess once HGL learns a trick he never forgets it. The spinning neck wound turns into Montag’s red cape and there he is standing in front of the audience. So I guess the idea is that the audience sees him cut off his head, and then suddenly he’s standing there intact. The power of illusion!
I notice that the film uses Eastmancolor – ah, now the washed-out colors make sense – the old Eastman Kodak processing bleaches over the years, and presumably no one ever bothered to make an archival-level print of Wizard of Gore. I guess I’ll forgive HGL for the bad colors – it was no doubt better when the film was fresh.
We now see HGL’s retarded idea of showmanship. After cutting his own head off in a guillotine, Montag’s next feat is producing a bouquet of flowers from his sleeve (has that trick ever fooled anyone?)
From nowhere a small card table and a longer table (obviously slapped together in wood shop) have appeared in front of Montag. He continues with a somewhat more coherent monologue about the power of illusion!! He also threatens to make Sir Isaac Newton quiver in his grave by defying his law of gravity. He then does that elementary stunt where you pour water back and forth between two glasses until, suddenly, the water doesn’t pour out of one glass. I’m not sure how this “defies the law of gravity”. When he does this, he does a really obvious twist with his wrist with the glass, so you can tell exactly what’s going on. He is one of the most dismal stage magicians I’ve seen. And I am a veteran of many Cub Scout meetings at which a young Bobcat scout shows off his magic chops.
Think about pacing. You are supposed to end with the most impressive trick, aren’t you? Build up to it. But Montag does his best trick first, then goes back to really pedestrian stuff. He does finish up with a doozy, but even his final trick doesn’t measure up to self-guillotining. Montag finally finishes his lame-o parlor pranks and gives a THIRD monologue about how much we love torture and terror, mysteriously telling us how much we like car wrecks and “death in the bullring.” (Isn’t this for an American audience?).
At least he is getting at the point of the movie, though his speech is interminable. His plan: to saw a woman in half. He asks for a volunteer from the audience. Unsurprisingly, no one steps up. Then we get a close-up of his whitened eyebrows and a girl steps forth. She seems kind of zombified or entranced. I guess she’s Under Montag’s Mental Sway.
But, at last, it’s the pay off. Two of Lewis’s stagehands carry the girl onto Montag’s table and strap her arms above her head. (No belt or foot restraints, for some reason.) They take her shoes off too(?) Montag pulls out a chainsaw (electric, not gas-powered) which gets him some points for showmanship. He proves it’s real by cutting through a two-by-four. Up to now, the girl has seemed drugged or hypnotized, but she screams when he hits her with the saw. Here is where HGL goes insane. Remember how Hitchcock had like 70-80 cuts in less than a minute in the shower scene in Psycho? Well, HGL tries something similar. Unlike Hitchcock’s results, however, the sequentiality of HGL’s scene is highly suspect.
The vast audience in evening dress who turn up for Montag’s bravura performance.
First Montag lowers the blade towards an impassive girl, after which we see the girl screaming in pain, yet no blood is visible. We cut to a close-up of a bunch of gory bits nestled in the girl’s dress. Presumably it’s supposed to be her midsection, sectioned by Montag’s saw. He chainsaws his way in – the wound seems way too wide – it’s like a foot across. The girl screams, spits out a hunk of meat from her mouth(?) and lies dead. So far, it all makes sense, in a low-budget kind of way. But HGL isn’t done with us.
The music suddenly changes and lo and behold the girl is intact. But then we suddenly cut again and now Montag’s playing in the gory bits with his hands. What the heck? Then she’s okay again. So, in brief, we see:
- Girl intact
- Girl cut in half
- Girl intact
- Girl cut in half
- Girl intact
I realize that the sequence has to end with her intact again, but why that brief moment when she is undamaged in the middle of the sequence? It’s not just HGL’s inferior editing, because he does it in every gore sequence in the movie. It’s plainly intentional. When I forced my friends to watch this film, they theorized that the audience didn’t see the gore, and that the bloodshed was only visible to Montag. To me this is plainly wrong, because Montag promises the audience gore. The cutting back and forth just is weird. Maybe HGL was trying to be artistic or new-age or something. It’s unsettling, annoying, and disconcerting. Perhaps that was the effect he wanted (well, presumably not the “annoying” part).
Montag finishes his trick and the girl walks impassively, woodenly, off the stage. It’s hard to tell with one of HGL’s troupe, but she’s so impassive I think she’s supposed to seem like she’s under a spell. Montag’s audience of dozens claps and whistles at the finish. We keep cutting back to the same couple in the audience, which makes me suspect that they’re supposed to be the stars. Certainly they look like HGL-style protagonists. The man is a total goon, for one thing. I hate him at first glance, a staple characteristic of HGL’s male leads.
The scene changes, and Chainsaw Girl walks, alone, into a cheap diner. The host asks her, “Table for how many please?” and she is completely silent – doesn’t even move her lips. The host then escorts her to a table in the corner, I guess using telepathy to figure out what she wanted. The waitress shows up and immediately shrieks in terror – the customer is now at a different seat at the table! Wait – she’s also dead and everything, with blood on her midriff. Then Chainsaw Girl falls to the floor and hilarity ensures.
The last word in “class”. And I mean the very last word.
The couple we’d seen earlier confirm their status as the protagonists as they stroll home after the show. As per HGL’s normal practice, Sherry (the girl) is enthusiastic and interested, and Jack (the guy) is a complete wet blanket. Maybe HGL hates men. Sherry is all “That show was great.” And Jack is all “Naw, he faked it.” Her most poignant comment is, “Sometimes you make everything feel as exciting as a shoelace factory.”
His response is to talk about basketball. Apparently he’s a sportswriter. (This is the only time in the film his love of sports is referenced.) He talks about her family and her job in the snidest possible way, openly mocking it. I feel right at home – this is the fabled HGL “character development” I know and love to hate.
Chemistry sizzles between the lovebirds.
On their way home from the show, they stroll past the very restaurant in which Chainsaw Girl died – a crowd including reporters is gathered. So, let me break this down. Sherry and Jack are clearly just leaving Montag’s show. Chainsaw Girl has had time to leave the show, go to a restaurant, and die. Then enough time passes for a crowd to gather at the scene, including photo-snapping journalists. Shouldn’t that have taken like an hour or so? Maybe time is just an illusion.
Curious, Jack elbows his way onto the scene, claiming that he’s “Press”. Which I guess is true – a sportswriter is a member of the Fourth Estate, after all. Sherry follows him as Chainsaw Girl’s covered corpse is carried from the scene on a stretcher. Her hand slips out and brushes Sherry’s hand, and smears it with blood. Plot point! To make sure we don’t miss the significance of this, there is a musical sting. Plus Sherry talks about it, and says “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Jack, ever the dork, informs her that she’ll be all right (on what basis?), and tells her a joke. I think. At least it makes her smile (but not me) so I guess she’s forgotten about the smeared blood from the murdered girl on her hand that she still hasn’t washed off.
In Jack’s newspaper office, with enough desks that it actually looks like a newsroom (a new level of production quality for HGL). Jack is typing away when a colleague walks up and pats him on the shoulder and tells him his girlfriend is on TV. Jack reluctantly gets up to see her, but complains about it in a whiny voice. Is he supposed to be a sympathetic character?
Sherry turns out to be a TV host for a show unpromisingly named “Housewive’s Coffee Break”. Ths show apparently consists of her sitting on a couch and talking straight into the camera. Times were simpler and less demanding then. On the other hand, Youtube is full of such dull “shows” – I guess everything moves in cycles. I am impressed by HGL’s access to props here – he has a real actual TV camera visible. Probably he had an “in” with a local Florida network.
Sherry proves to be an awful TV host. She speaks stiltedly and has long rambling side stories. She does get in a couple of digs at “cheap exploitation movies” (it’s self-referential! Wow!) She plugs Montag pretty hard but mistakes Svengali for a “magician”. She then tells the audience she’s hoping to get Montag on her show. Shouldn’t she check with her producer first?
Suddenly she is talking to Montag at the theater – we can see from the open door that instead of a dressing room, Montag just sits backstage. Or maybe he lives there? What the heck?
All indications are that this, in fact, is where Montag lives.
Sherry identifies herself and is surprised when Montag seems not to have heard of “Housewive’s Coffee Break” (har), She asks if she can “come in” (to the stage). Montag is rude and argumentative, insisting that he doesn’t give interviews. Sherry tries to praise him, and argues that he would have a bigger audience, but Montag is adamant, and he holds open the door for her.
He basically drives her out, and she holds out her hand to him, as though to shake his hand. Instead, he grabs her hand and lifts it up. Ishe going to kiss her paw? No, he just stares, and suddenly the bloodstain returns to her hand, (remember? From touching Chainsaw Girl’s flipper?).
Suddenly Montag changes his tune. He returns her to her chair, and asks her to come see his next performance before deciding to have him on her show. This request makes no sense – she already wanted him on the show. Why not just agree? Why make her attend another performance? His ostensible reason is completely idiotic “to make sure you think I’m good enough”. Balderdash.
Uh-oh, it’’s artsy time. Suddenly the whole screen is covered by a red filter, and Montag is on a large, manicured lawn, seemingly at some kind of institution. The music changes too, all spooky and science-fictiony. I guess it’s a cemetery, because we now see a coffin slowly rise up from the ground and open under the influence of Montag’s mystic gestures.
Inside is Chainsaw Girl. Montag then carries Chainsaw Girl’s corpse to a big concrete structure atop which is a Praying Hands motif. He shoves her inside a hole in one corner of the structure. Chainsaw Girl was buried in the same miniskirt she died in. The same one we saw all chopped up at the diner. Yeah, that makes sense.
What is going on here? I have no idea.
We now cut to a shirtless Jack (a little something for the ladies!) sitting on his bed complaining (as usual) over the phone to Sherry, who wants him to come with her to see Montag again. Two nights in a row. I guess I can see his point. She pussy-whips him into line, and he agrees to escort her while he awkwardly puts on a t-shirt. Hey, at least it’s stage “business”, if not up to Marlon Brando’s level.
Jack opens up a newspaper and lo and behold it’s about the “psycho murder” at the restaurant. Jack doesn’t seem to recognize the victim, though her picture is right there on the front page, but I’m guessing he probably doesn’t pay much attention to girls.
Later that evening, Jack and Sherry are once more seated for Montag’s show. Amusingly, everyone else in the audience are the same people we saw “last night” too. They’re even dressed the same. I guess Montag has a captive audience.
Argh! HGL makes us watch Montag does the same stupid water-pouring stunt we saw the first night. What a snoozer. It’s even with a worse camera angle, as though HGL is slacking off. Even Jack shakes his head in boredom. Montag still has the same dumb table as in his first act, but now it’s mounted in an erect manner.
We hear his entire speech about gladiators, car wrecks and bull rings again to an immense lack of excitement on our part. Again he asks for volunteers, but at least it seems he’s not going to saw her in half this time. Man, his speech goes on FOREVER. Oops sorry, a little “train of thought” crept into the review. I guess HGL really liked this speech. Just to pay him back I’m not going to quote it in its entirety. If you’re curious, you know where to find it.
His plan tonight is to drive a spike into the brain of a volunteer. Who will volunteer? At first, it seems no one. But then we get the closeup of Montag’s eyebrows.
Montag makes a mystic pass, and, unintuitively, a man leaps up, grabs the girl next to him, and shoves her unwillingly towards the stage. Montag’s mystic power then takes over, and she walks zombie-like up to him. She has a miniskirt even shorter than the first girl’s, if anything. Or maybe it just looks that way because she’s taller.
Montag leans her up against his cheap wooden slab and locks her hands above her head. This would seem to interfere with his stated desire to ram a stake through her brain, but I guess they couldn’t spring for a new board with waist-level wristholds.
He whips out his spike and gloats. Then he asks a man from the audience to come up and inspect the spike. Jack leaps to the occasion, but grudgingly only admits that it “appears” to be solid. To prove his point, Montag tells Jack to drive the spike into a wooden board. Entertainingly, because the board isn’t braced in any way (just held up by a stagehand), Jack can’t do the job, He can only kind of whack at it. But apparently this is good enough, because he’s convinced, and hands the stake back to Montag.
Without further delay (yay!) Montag starts hammering away at the girls’ head. The spike mysteriously changes girth and length between cuts. It’s all the mystery of special FX I guess. The first couple of whacks, the girl doesn’t’ holler yet, though the spike (judging by its length) must be about 6 inches into her skull already. Then the girl winces as though she’d just gotten a paper cut. I guess she’s working up to the big scream. Yeah, here it comes. She hells as the spike is withdrawn from her head, and a bunch of blood pours out of her mouth. But none is visible on the spike or her hair.
Take a gander at the spike he’s holding.
This is supposed to be the same spike? Movie Magik!
Montag then reaches into her hair as it transforms into a really cheap wig. I guess the actress didn’t want HGL’s fake blood on her real hair. He pulls out what is amusingly supposed to be her entire brain from the spike hole. Even better, he doesn’t produce the brain in his hand until he fumbles around for a while at her neck level. I’ve referenced HGL’s weak grasp on anatomy before, but this takes the cake. Jeeze.
Spike Girl dies faster with less screaming than Chainsaw Girl. I guess that makes sense, as a hot stake is better than a cold chop. (Yeah I know. Sorry.) The weird camera cuts then start again, as with Chainsaw Girl. We see Montag ramming his spike into her head sans all blood. Then we see her dead, with blood in her wig. (The contrast between her real hair and the wig are drastic. I guess Montag should have patronized Mrs. Pringle’s wig shop.) Again he works the brain out of her head (this time from above her ear).
The audience, rapt.
He goes back and forth again and again. Far more than last time. And – good grief, he actually has a fake head for the girl in some of the cuts. I’m not sure why since we never see the spike actually enter a head. Most of the shots are extreme close-ups, for which this proves a bad choice, since all we can see is bloody hair.
Ah, now I see what the fake head is for. HGL has placed a real sheep’s eye inside the fake head, so Montag can stick his fingers into the eye socket and play with it before prying it out. Classy, dude. This scene would be pretty unsettling if you didn’t notice the fakeness of the head, and the fact that it’s plainly not a human eye. It’s pretty awesome that when he sticks his fingers into her eye, the whole fake nose and cheekbone move around. Well … I guess it would be awesome if you weren’t genteel folk who are probably hiding your face behind your hands right now. But since I was born with a tragic congenital lack of taste, I sit here open-eyed.
We again cut to the girl, almost intact, though the spike is still in her skull (no blood though), as Montag steps back. I swear this editing is abominable. It reminds me of the famous quote from Ebert about Battlefield Earth, when he said, “the director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.” Well, HGL learned from better films that directors sometimes edit action scenes choppily. And that’s as far as it went.
At this point, to quiet chimes on the soundtrack, Montag tilts the unbloodied passive girl’s head from side to side so everyone can see the obvious spike pounded into her. What happened to the blood? Illusion, my friends. He unties the girl and sends her back to her seat, to a smattering of applause. Montag has done it again.
Just thought I’d mention that the girl walks down and to stage right, despite the fact that she climbed onto the stage from the left, and that’s also clearly where her seat was – against the left wall. Another interesting point to ponder – when HGL shows the audience, he ONLY ever shows the left part of them against the left wall. He never gives us a shot of the middle or the right-hand side. Incompetence? Perhaps, but since all of his shots of Montag are taken from stage right, I suspect this is where he had his crew and cameras, and didn’t want to move them. What an auteur.
Spike Girl now walks out of the theater alone, which means that she, like Chainsaw Girl, went to see the show by herself. (Who does this?) It also means that the guy Montag hypnotized to drag her out of her seat wasn’t her date. I think she’s supposed to be walking all entranced, but she seems pretty naturalistic, if impassive. In other words, HGL hired an actress who was so bad she couldn’t imitate a zombie convincingly! Now THAT’S impressive.
Look at Montag’s amazing hairdye job.
Sherry drags Jack backstage (literally) to meet Montag. She says, “Maybe he’ll tell us how he did it.” Yeah, that’s likely. As before, Montag remains standing while his guests sit down. Jack’s body language is nervous but maybe this is stage fright on the actor’s part. He’s that bad.
Jack then drops a bombshell – at least, it surprised me. It turns out that he DID recognize the girl’s picture in the paper (he certainly gave no indication till now), and he says that clearly some nut followed her home and killed her the same way Montag did. Really? Someone chainsawed her to death in a restaurant? That’s Jack’s theory? Wow.
Jack then states, with complete lack of accuracy, “They found her body in a booth. Cut in two pieces.” (She was seated at a table, not a booth, and her body was sprawled on the floor. Plus she was clearly in one piece.) However, Jack’s errors of fact DO convince me he’s a a real journalist now. Probably works for the Washingon Post.
Jack comfortingly informs Sherry that it was Chainsaw Girl’s body they encountered last evening – and the bloodstain appears on Sherry’s hand again. I think the bloodstains are supposed to be invisible – we don’t see Sherry try to scrub them off. I guess they’re like the pentagram that appears in the palms of people the Wolfman is about to kill.
Montag still refuses to be interviewed for “Housewives’ Coffee Break”, but he offers to perform an illusion for her audience. No doubt something … terrible will happen. I can hardly wait. This is a big step up for HGL, and is one of the reasons that I rate The Wizard of Gore more highly than his usual epics – the villain actually has an evil plot. In his previous films, people are threatened, but there is no urgency to stop them really.
- Color Me Blood Red has a reluctant villain who has to be prodded into violence.
- Gruesome Twosome were eager to kill, but only enough to keep their shop going.
- Two Thousand Maniacs killers are satisfied with four victims.
- Blood Feast’s deranged caterer wanted to prepare the Feast of Ishtar. There’s no indication that this was other than a worship ceremony though, nor was there any supernatural element.
But in Wizard of Gore the killer actually has a plan, that if allowed to occur, will result in Something Terrible happening. So that’s cool, and a step up for HGL. Lord knows I lambast the man enough – I can give him credit for the occasional approach to competence.
Anyway back to the show. Montag asks them to return again, for the next night’s show, and they agree. So we must endure Jack complaining (again) in the car with Sherry, saying that he doesn’t want to go. Sherry points out that jack takes her to hockey games, intercollegiate wrestling matches, etc., and why the heck can’t he support her career for a change? I have to say, she makes a good case. Jack stonewalls, but she talks him into attending by promising him some nookie, if he goes to the show. I kid you not.
Jack lets her out of the car, and lo and behold the blood is on her hand again, and this time she can see it. At least she wipes it off with a rag. Then we cut to an image of newpapers pouring off the presses – it’s not stock footage, either (wow) because the printer’s devil pulls a copy of a paper off the top of the pile, and it’s another murder from this movie! Actual realistic scene placement for a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie! Wonders do not cease. I’m starting to regret showing this magnum opus as Ken Begg’s first HGL gore film. It almost scrapes the bottom of being adequate at some points, and probably gave him the wrong impression about HGL’s talents.
But then, maybe not. Jack gets handed the latest paper, and takes a good look at it, and HGL is up to his usual level of quality. Look at the following picture, and then let’s discuss it. (By “discuss it” I mean, “read my ensuing ramblings on the topic”.)
EXTRA! World’s Worst Fake Newspaper Discovered!
- First, no date, nor any price at the top of the paper. Even a free paper (which this clearly is not) says “free”. I double-dog dare you to find a newspaper without the date prominently displayed.
- Second, the headline “SECOND BRUTAL KILLING IN TWO DAYS” is incompetently laid out. Look at any real paper – the headline is always carefully placed so it exactly fills the space available. If a headline is more than a single line, both lines are nearly equal. Who ever did a headline arranged in this inept manner?
- Third, the fake article on the left (“US School Aid Bill In Trouble”) is peeling off the fake backing! Yow!
See? Just when I was starting to have warm thoughts about HGL’s rise to near-competence, he pulls off something like this. That’s why HGL’s the master – he thinks of everything!
Jack now calls up a dude at the paper and asks him questions about the dead girl. It’s done really stiff and dull so I’m skimming over it. Because Montag is on the march. We are suddenly in a morgue or autopsy room or some damn place, and the attendant turns to see Montag walk into the room. The attendant waves his arms out to the sides and shouts “Geddarha!” (I swear.)
Montag, unimpressed by the man’s simple yet beautiful native speech and gestures, waves his mystic arms and the attendant (a) stands still and (b) gets a bloody nose. This hasn’t happened before as a result of Montag’s acts, so I assume it’s just coincidence and the guy has high blood pressure.
Still, we see HGL filming in what looks like a real hospital. If it seems like I’m unnecessarily excited about such stuff, you have to remember that this is amazing for HGL. Usually his idea of a set is the exterior of some crew member’s suburban house. I think HGL is following the same principle I use to escape doing chores at home – I exercise such total ineptitude at every task, that when I do something barely adequately, my long-suffering wife is inordinately thrilled. It’s like watching a cat walk on its hind legs – sure the cat doesn’t walk that well, but it’s cool it can do it at all.
Montag’s hypnotic victim stands with his left arm raised for no apparent reason. Montag then pulls the sheet off what is either Spike Girl’s corpse or a model thereof (there was debate on this subject among the viewers) and carries her off. If it IS her corpse, she doesn’t play dead very well – she keeps her head stiffly up, rather than hanging limply down. And no, she’s not pretending to have rigor mortis, because the rest of her body is limp.
We return to the red-filtered vault or tomb or whatever it is, and Montag dumps Spike Girl into the same hole in the corner of the structure. Eerie theremin music plays.
Honest, she’s supposed to be dead.
Jack shows an inkling of common sense (only an inkling, mind you), and has lunch with the crime reporter at the lordly Chicken Unlimited diner, which is probably where HGL fed his crew. The crime guy hands over a photo of the murdered girl (which we don’t get to see) and Jack whines. As usual. Basically he thinks that the murdered girl was the same girl who was at Montag’s show, but is too stupid to be sure.
He does confirm that Chainsaw Girl was murdered. Wait, NOW we see the picture – her face is turned away so that’s why Jack didn’t recognize her. Even though she’s wearing the same distinctive miniskirt she wore at the show. The pictured head wound is, of course, not in the spot that Montag hammered in his spike – it’s too low. In one final touch of HGL magic, the photo that the crime reporter hands to Jack is clearly black-and-white, but the close-up we are shown is in color.
The crime reporter suggests that maybe Montag himself is the killer, but both he and Jack agree that a psycho who loves Montag’s show is probably to blame. I wonder if HGL was getting self-referential again. It’s long been a staple of the Forces of Totalitarian Evil (i.e., censors) that bloodthirsty movies derange us fans, or stimulate us to go out and murder people.
This was the theory behind Britain’s egregious BBFC and the American Comics Code Authority which destroyed EC. The theory is obviously false – I’ve seen literally thousands of horror movies, and was only impelled to go out and commit a murder maybe a couple of dozen times at best. Ken’s probably murdered even fewer people than me.
This censorship theory is also the reason that dictatorships produce few or no horror movies. During the entirety of the Soviet Union’s existence, they produced one single horror film (Viy, which was really more of a fairy story). Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany made no horror movies at all, despite Germany’s great contribution to the genre in the 1920s. Mysteriously, Nationalist Spain did produce some excellent horror, so I guess even dictators are not always consistent.
Anyway, I wonder if in this scene HGL was bringing up the specter of “the killer triggered by what he sees”. Since, of course it turns out to be Montag who’s behind the deaths, we the viewers are off the hook, but did HGL realize the depth of the topic he was bringing up? Maybe it’s just another in a long list of films which mock the audience – how many monster movies have you seen where one of the main characters talks about how much they hate monster movies? *rolls eyes*
Well on with our story, such as it is. Montag is once more on stage.. And once again we hear his speech – at least not in its entirety. And yeah, the audience are the same people, wearing the same clothes, though not sitting in the same seats (yay). The town is in a serious rut.
We now enter HGL’s time warp. Almost all his movies waste time like this, running through the same basically identical scene over and over. Of course, that’s the point – he’s trying to give the audience their blood and guts. But in Wizard of Gore he is even more repetitive than usual. We see Montag give the same speeches, the same gestures, endure the same close-ups of his eyes.
For a third time Montag glares at the audience, then again a man leaps up and yanks the girl next to him unwillingly to her feet. She struggles briefly, then catches Montag’s eye and is immediately hyp-motized into submission, as the man sits down and shakes his head as though to clear it. I’m not sure why HGL films his mind control this way. Surely it is less effective than having the girl get up while the guy, perhaps, tries unsuccessfully to hold her back, frightened for her. But of course HGL almost always picks the less effective way to shoot a scene. He’s like an auteur in that way.
The girl is another platinum blonde too. No miniskirt this time, but a really ugly red and black pants suit.
Elaine wisely wore a costume that wouldn’t show disembowelment stains.
Montag now shows off his new tool, the World’s Least Convincing Punch Press. He still uses the same table though. He calls up an audience member to test a hunk of wood to see if it’s solid. He then puts the wood on his table and lowers the punch press onto it. This punch press is really bad – you can see it wobble when Montage presses too hard on it, and the “drill” itself is plainly a cheap aluminum tube. He pretends to drill a hole through the wood, then lays the girl down on the table. Here I have to note that his girl for this stunt is not actually very pretty. For all his flaws, he generally gets at least adequately nice girls (She Devils On Wheels being a great exception). Another feature of HGL’s films is that the lead actress is often the least attractive of his girls. Wizard of Gore is an exception only because Punch Press Girl is, to my eye, less attractive than Sherry. But that only puts Sherry up to 2nd place.
Well back to the punch press. This time Montag doesn’t resort to the fake vs. real spike routine, since the drill is already obviously fake, and he can just use it. He bares the girl’s midriff and begins to work the press. I am filled with anticipation. What shall I get?
First, we see Montag and the press, still a few inches above the girl’s body. Second, we see the girl’s face, alone and impassive. Third, we see the press apparently penetrated deep into a plainly fake body, surrounded by what is probably supposed to be organs, but is clearly suet or something similar. It gets worse. We hear the girl screaming agonizedly, but her face just looks … well … mildly peeved. At the widest, her mouth is only half-open while the screams are obviously dubbed.
The stark face of agony. On the soundtrack she’s shrieking at the top of her lungs.
In other words, HGL couldn’t even get his actress to scream convincingly. I had hoped he’d picked this homely girl because of her acting chops. Nope. At least this is one of the better effects when we see the blood and guts though. She wriggles as the shaft is withdrawn from her body (and there is nothing phallic in this scene. I swear.).
We cut to Sherry and Jack in the audience and again I give HGL minimal credit – Jack is wearing not only a different shirt and necktie, but a different suit, adding verisimilitude to the idea that this is the next night. Unfortunately, it’s still the same actor playing Jack. Make a clean break, says I.
Montag plays in the gore again as the girl writhes and then, seemingly, dies. The pipe is withdrawn and she’s suddenly okay. Then she’s gory again with Montag’s hands in her innards. It’s the same weird editing thing that I think is supposed to be creepy but by actual poll taken from the viewers of this film, 100% of them found it irritating and confusing. So HGL completely failed. The girl gets up, still zombified, and walks off the stage. She doesn’t even pull her shirt back down (Montag had exposed her midriff for the big show. The girl doesn’t even seem zombified once she gets to her seat. She looks around, blinks, seems animated. I suspect this is a failure on the actress’s part, because the other girls all were still hyp-mo-tized after they got down. The audience leaves and we get a look at the seedy circumstances Montag works under. I cringe.
Presumably this is the best shot HGL had to make his theater seem half-decent. I shudder to think of what the rest of the building was like.
Remember – there is never any indication that Montag is other than a successful performer, nor that he gives his show in shabby surroundings. Yet this is what his venue looks like. Threadbare, greasy seat covers, burst cushions, worn armrests. I can only assume that HGL (a) didn’t care, or (b) didn’t think his audience would notice, because we’re such hicks this would look okay to us. Hey, it’s better than the theater we’re watching this in right now, guys, am I right?
Hilariously, we now see Sherry and Jack having dinner together and it’s a parody of the “rich folks sitting at a long table” shot we used to see a lot in movies (most recently in Batman). Except the table is only about 6 feet long. It seems like HGL is trying to hint that these are the Beautiful People. After all they have dream jobs (sportswriter & TV hostess). Sherry’s dining room has an unnaturally high ceiling complete with a small chandelier. I know HGL wouldn’t spring for a set, so this is probably someone’s actual dining room. I do notice that he forgot to give them a tablecloth though. I hope they didn’t mess the hardwood finish up too much in shooting the dinner scene.
Jack slowly and clumsily explains to Sherry that someone is killing the girls that volunteer for Montag’s show. Sherry logically points out the flaws in thinking that Montag is the killer. “How could Montag have followed the girl to the restaurant when he was still on the stage taking his bows? And we were both with him when they found the body of the second woman.” I have to admit, she makes a good case. Montag is exonerated!
Jack isn’t convinced, and the cavils he gives for Montag’s possible guilt are so half-baked, I’m convinced he’s retarded. First he says maybe Chainsaw Girl was a ringer from the audience, whom Montag met later at the restaurant. Then he says they were only with Montag for about 30 minutes (which would mean that Montag had to sneak out, kill the girl, come back, and put his tuxedo back in just in time for an impromptu interview with Sherry which he didn’t know about beforehand). Really, it’s pathetic.
Of course you and I, dear reader, know that Montag IS responsible, but not by sneaking out and murdering the girls. It’s the power of Illusion. Which makes this one of HGL’s few supernatural films. Most people count Two Thousand Maniacs as a supernatural film because at the end, the bloodthirsty townies are revealed to be ghosts. But nothing done in the movie is supernatural, nor does it really need a supernatural explanation. It’s just a coda tacked onto the ending so HGL could have a retarded twist in his finale. Anyway, back to this show.
Even Jack ultimately admits that probably Montag’s not the villain. For one thing, is he going to chase his victim down the street with a punch press? (No.) Jack then starts putting the moves in Sherry and I get nervous, remembering that HGL originally made his bones in soft-core nudies. Sure enough Jack leads Sherry to bed, and presumably action is about to follow. I am temporarily saved when we cut to a different bed, in which Punch Press Girl is laying, still clothed as she was at the party. Her husband (I assume) walks in, turns on the light, and is shocked, gesturing in a manner that would do a silent movie star proud.
Shocked surprise or tension headache? You tell me.
Note also that in the distance shot (seen above), the girl is fully dressed. In the close-up, her midriff is exposed, and there is the fake gore and such which Ken won’t let me post images of. I know he’s probably going to claim otherwise publicly in a comment, but trust me on this.*
[Editor Ken: *No, I'll cop to it. Hey, did I ever mention that Sandy thinks James Cameron is the bestest director working today, and talks incessantly about him, and has proudly on display in his living room an amazingly complex homemade Avatar RGP game which centers upon an elaborate set of embossed cards featuring CGI sex images involving that movie's blue people? There are also intermixed in there similar cards featuring Lara Croft and Princess Leia in her metal bikini, which I didn't really get, but Sandy flew into a spittle-flecked rage when I opined thus, so I just dropped the whole subject and slowly backed away.]
OH NO, we pop back from the gore to Jack and Sherry smooching in bed. Jack has his shirt off, but he still has his belt and pants on. Where are his priorities? Then we see them laying in bed together, and now Sherry has a nightgown. No nudie stuff though. *whew*
The phone rings, and the crime reporter reports to Jack on the death of Punch Press Girl. But here is the slipshod way it’s recounted – the reporter says a neighbor’s wife heard a man screaming and ran over. She found the husband sitting on the floor holding his wife’s head – “the rest of the body was about 5 feet away.”
What the hell, HGL? You showed us close-ups of the girl’s body not 30 seconds ago, and if there’s one thing that was clear, it was that her head was firmly attached to her torso. This is even more egregious than when HGL had someone say Chainsaw Girl was found in two pieces. I wonder if HGL just recorded his dialogue wrong or didn’t bother to change the script after changing the stunts or what? It’s little things like this that make HGL the master of Getting Stuff Wrong. Lesser lights like you and I can just dream of screwing stuff up this way.
Jack hops out of bed, and I am thrilled to see he wears white boxers with big red hearts on them. When Sherry asks what’s wrong, Jack tells her that there is a woman “completely mashed to a pulp” which (a) doesn’t match what the crime reporter said and (b) doesn’t match what we saw and (c) doesn’t match what Montag did. More evidence that the press was as prone to false reporting in the 1960s as they are now. Maybe we actually won in Vietnam. Maybe Nixon didn’t actually resign. How would we know?
So just when I am starting to like Jack a little (mostly because of the boxers, but partly because he is at last taking some action), Sherry jumps out of bed, and Jack grabs her and brusquely asks, “Where are you going?” This is her own house, in her own bedroom, dude. She tells him straight out, “I’m going with you. I saw those women too and I want to see the photos.” He generously gives her permission to accompany him and they’re off.
The cops have two photos available – one for Spike Girl and one for Punch Press Girl. The photos they show are obviously 8×10 glossies from the actresses’ portfolios. Both photos are identified (by Sherry and Jack) as the girls who attended Montag’s show, and the cops spring into action.
Oh wait. No they don’t. Instead, the cops & Jack stand around bloviating at the police station. Again they re-examine Montag’s possible guilt in dialogue, and dismiss it – the cop in charge (wearing the World’s Worst Necktie) points out that Montag would have had to commit Spike Girl’s murder after Jack & Sherry told him of their suspicions, and he’d have murdered Punch Press Girl knowing that Sherry and Jack were in the audience, already suspicious. Another cop opines that “nothing about this makes sense” which I think is supposed to seem wise. It’s pretty accurate though.
World’s Worst Necktie.
The cop with the awful necktie comes up with a plan. Detectives will attend the magic show, then they’ll secretly follow home whichever girl volunteers for Montag’s stunt. That way they can catch the killer red-handed when he attacks her. The plan makes sense, though it does seem to endanger the unsuspecting girl to use her as bait in this way. But hey, omelette vs. eggs, am I right?
In any case I’m probably not supposed to be thinking about this because as an audience member, I know that the police surveillance is going to fail, because the deaths are caused by illusion. So why worry about how good or bad their idea is?
Now to the musical strains of a harp(?) Montag shows up at the morgue. He pulls out the body of Punch Press Girl and smiles fondly upon her. I note in passing that her head is not severed from her body despite the crime reporter’s facile claim. Montag carries her to the red-gel-lit cemetery where he has been burying all the bodies.
He intelligently has her over his shoulders so his back doesn’t get thrown out of whack. But it seems to me that carrying her face-down in that manner, what with her tummy all reamed out, could lead to bloodstains on the cape and all. Hey, Montag – you can lower your dry-cleaning bill by wrapping the corpse in a tablecloth. Better minds than you have thought this thing through. Even the low-rent backwoods hick monster in Jeepers Creepers covers his kills with a tarp.
Well it’s the next night’s performance and this one is a doozy. It’s Montag’s last stage-set bloody scene and it is by far the most ludicrously inept, so it is of course my favorite. When we showed this sucker at Tween Fest this is the scene with the most catcalls. I’ll try to do it justice.
The girls have their hands tied to ropes that extend upwards. Yes he’s got two volunteers this time. He carries in his hands an obviously fake toy sword. The tip is cut straight across, as blunt as the end of a measuring tape. Montag makes some jokes which are mildly entertaining. “What can be safer than swallowing a sword? No DDT, no cyclamates, no calories! An excellent way to get your iron!” This might be the first-ever funny HGL joke I’ve encountered – a landmark!
He pulls out three more swords (why does he need four swords – he only has two girls?) The extra three he pulls out look very different from the original fake sword – their blades seem paper-thin and kind of wobbly. I’m sure this will play into what we laughably call HGL’s “special effects” later on. Jack, again, is the volunteer to test the sword, and he manages to cut a piece of string, “proving” its efficacy. It seems like he should test all four swords though. I’m just saying.
In case we didn’t get the implications of the two girls, the cops stand up in the middle of the audience and in loud stage whispers decide that they will have to split up to follow them. So the question arises – why is this an issue that HGL brings up? If there were only enough cops to follow one girl, that might be a plot element (though an idiotic one). But since they have enough to follow both, it seems like HGL was trying to introduce a new complication, but it’s not a problem after all. Maybe he just wanted to kill two girls in his final grand stage-setting and then someone in his crew said, “Hey, the cops should comment on this, because they were planning to follow just one girl!”
On the way back to his seat, Jack touches one of the girls (just on her hand, you cad), and suddenly his hand is covered with blood, the way that Sherry’s hand has periodically gotten blood splooshies.
Montag then takes his swords (one sword per girl) and jams them into the girls’ mouths and, theoretically, down their throats. It’s pretty grim in theory. I’m going to lambast HGL a lot here, so I should praise the few good things going on. When Montag butchers the first girl, we get some shots of the other girl waiting her turn, emerging from her zombie trance and starting to panic. Also, when Montag first thrusts the sword into the girl’s mouth, HGL really hits his nasty, sordid mark. This is a grisly moment, and the gagging screams of the actress raises even my jaded hackles. We don’t actually see much fake gore, but the thought of what’s going on is genuinely disturbing. Fortunately for the weak-stomached, soon enough HGL’s slipshod talents diminish the impact.
After a promising start, the horror is greatly mitigated by several risible factors.
- The “blade” visibly twists and bends while he is supposedly stabbing her, which lends credence to my theory that he used metal measuring tapes for his swords.
- The sword grips are really palpably cheap plastic, doubtless from a kid’s toy.
- Montag sticks the sword in from the front, as the girls’ heads face forwards (not up). He then thrusts his 2-foot sword in up to the hilt. But it doesn’t come out the back of her neck.
- When Montag releases his grip, the sword hilts visibly wobble back and forth , like jello. This does not add to their convincing nature.
- Dubbed screams are emitted at times when an actress is clearly not screaming (such as when her mouth is closed).
- The girls, when dripping bloody meat from their mouths, stand carefully so the gore won’t hit their blouse and stain.
- When the girls are “dead”, they still keeping moving around, just a little, but noticeably.
- Worse, the girls, when “dead”, stand stiffly erect, their arms limply dangling from the ropes.
The amazing disappearing sword blade. Also, how did she get a blood stain on her arm?
On this last point (the girls standing up straight when dead), it boggles my mind that no one on even HGL’s crew cared that the victims are visibly not dead. This is almost a theme with HGL – those of you who count yourself fans of Sandy’s reviews (Lord help you) may recall I touched upon this problem in Color Me Blood Red. It happens in Blood Feast as well. It takes the viewer right out of any suspension of disbelief, because it’s so obviously wrong. Even the inbred rednecks that HGL thought were his target audience can surely see the problem. You can’t stand up when you’re dead, HGL. Get with the picture.
Note how rigor mortis affects the legs almost instantly, while it takes a while to work its way up to the rest of the body.
HGL’s editing is at its most mysterious during this sequence. In the other “shock” moments, the camera switches back and forth between Montag not starting yet, and the victim wallowing in her gore. It’s as if we are moving around in time, but leaving the actual events unchanged. This time we get two incompatible sequences which can’t both be correct. Montag inserts the swords while the girls’ holler and spit blood, and we also see him inserting the swords while the girls quietly and bloodlessly accept them, like real sword-swallowers, except without the charisma.
It is confusing enough that some of my friends are still convinced that the audience saw no gore in this scene– only the sword-swallowing. But I’m sticking to my theory that the audience saw at least some of it, since Montag boasts of the carnage he’s going to inflict. Already I’ve spent more time discussing this than HGL did inventing it, so time to mosey along.
The girls, as before, walk ensorcelled back to their seats. The show breaks up, and the (only two) cops prepare to follow their respective targets. Both girls came stag to the show, which I find pretty unnatural. Granted that a woman should feel free to attend a magic show or rodeo or whatever without a date, how many actually do so? At least she’d go with a passle of girlfriends, wouldn’t she? I’m a big fan of magic shows and I have never seen one alone.
Perhaps if I was an embittered misanthrope like Ken Begg,* I might occasionally attend a performance by myself, but these girls are youthful and moderately attractive (all are at least a 4 on that sexist 1-10 scale – though Wizard of Gore does not, to my eyes anyway, boast very nice-looking girls for an HGL production). Anyway, the girls are alone and they go home alone, each shadowed by a single cop.
[*Editor Ken: What a completely baseless charge. On the other hand, it's pretty much what I've come to expect from people, who invariably suck. You can all go screw off.]
One girl takes off in her convertible, and the cop races to his car to follow. I am diverted by the fact that the “cop” clumsily bumps his car over the curb as he races after her. We see headlights moving slowly through the night (it’s as unexciting as a She Devils on Wheels race) for a while and eventually the girl’s car stops.
The cop gets out to investigate, opens the convertible’s door and the girl’s body sprawls out onto the street. She seems to be wearing a different blouse than on stage, but maybe it’s just HGL’s shitty lighting. Sadly, she has drooled some fake blood onto her top, so the efforts she took on-stage to keep from dirtying her clothing have failed. (Unless this is, indeed, a different blouse.)
We then see the other girl walk home alone. She enters a house. I’m not sure what the cop’s plan was – to follow and protect her I guess, but when she goes inside, he is stymied. He opens the door without knocking, and she is dead on the floor, again with blood down her front.
Sherry answers her phone and hears about the killings (HGL doesn’t do anything non-essential off-screen). When Sherry explains to Jack what happened, in a tour-de-force she gets both stories wrong. First she tells Jack that one of the girls stopped her car at a red light, and then didn’t drive off when it turned green (no light was visible at the scene which, I might add, we just saw). Then she tells Jack that the cop broke into the other girl’s home when he heard a crash (no crash was heard, and anyway how could he hear a girl fall down from inside his car on the street?) It’s like HGL is trying to change our recent memory.
The cop tries to beat his previous record for World’s Worst Necktie.
The cops and Jack waste some screen time thinking up arcane methods the killer could have employed to knock off the two girls. Then finally an exasperated cop tells Jack that they’re tired of him playing detective (yay), but goes into yet a new theory about how the killings were done. It’s so lame I won’t recount it, particularly as the cop poo-poos his own theory right after presenting it.
The cop then tells Jack and Sherry that a morgue attendant was killed, when someone “tried to get at the body” of the girl killed the night before. Except of course we saw Montag succeed in getting at that body. And the morgue attendant was two nights ago as I recall. Anyway he didn’t seem to die at the time, just got a bloody nose. I know from actual experience bloody noses are not invariably lethal.
The cops get another idea – they know Montag is appearing on Sherry’s show. Logically, this means Sherry will be Montag’s volunteer, so they can stay right by her side throughout, and she’ll be safe. Except of course we know that it’s done by the power of illusion. So I suppose we are now scared for Sherry.
Tragically, we now see Sherry and Jack arguing in bed, with another view of his naked chest. Again, something for the ladies, but Jack is so damn unlikable I doubt even the loneliest ladies are happy to see his scanty chest hair.
Sherry heads off to work, leaving Jack behind and suddenly Jack notices his bloody hand again. He scrubs and scrubs but the karo syrup just won’t come out.
At last Montag is on Sherry’s show and he gloats that he is about to give the greatest performance of his career. Another landmark moment – for HGL’s plot line almost reaches adequacy! Montag opines that magic tricks done on television have the obvious flaw that the audience has no proof that the “volunteers” aren’t henchmen of the magician. But Montag is going to use the entire audience as his volunteers. Everyone will experience his trick. See, Dear Reader? HGL has a decent idea for once. Too bad that, once again, his contemptible performance undercuts anything of decency.
First, says Montag, “We must link our minds.” He urges me to concentrate and, loyally, I do my best. Sadly, Ray Sager’s piss-poor acting makes it hard. But it works on everyone else on the show. We see the whole studio riveted to the set, and all of them have bloody hands. The lone exception is Jack, who isn’t looking at the set – he seems bored and inattentive.
Then Jack looks around and sees the blood on everyone hands (his own included). His eyes bug out. He tries to wake up his friends but fails. Finally the penny drops, “It’s Montag – he’s doing it. He’s going to kill everyone!” I love this plan and from now on my sympathies are firmly with Montag. Jack rushes out of the room, while we see a montage of zombified, hand-stained victims. Apparently “Housewife’s Coffee Break” is shown in a bar, at home, even being watched by little kids (all dutifully holding their bloody hands up so we can see them).
It’s the only TV I watch anymore.
Everyone on the set is riveted too, all stiffly watching, except the camera operator, who has to keep focused. Montag now grabs Sherry and the two cops and they walk forward, hands linked. He leads them to the most pathetic preparations for a bonfire I’ve ever seen in my 54 years. It is literally a half-dozen planks stacked up against a room divider.
Meanwhile Jack runs to the studio, but can’t get in (the door’s locked). Montag sets the planks afire somehow (magic I guess), and Jack suddenly runs up and shoves Montag into the fire. Jack grabs Sherry and yanks her back and she wakes up from her trance. Meanwhile, it’s Montag’s turn to scream as he fries to a crisp. HGL tries to give us a gore moment by watching Montag’s body burn, but all we see really are the flames. We get another montage of the viewers, and lo and behold their hands are non-bloodified again.
So let’s look at the situation at this point. Jack has rushed up, on local (if not national) TV and shoved a man into a fire, where he immediately burns to death. Two cops are present. Jack’s defense? “Montag was going to shove everyone into the fire.” Let me know how that stands up in court. My guess it is as good as the tried-and-true “Miniature Triceratops Told Me To Do It”.
To bolster his statement, Jack says Montag was somehow making everyone’s hand bleed. So everyone checks their hands, and sure enough, no one is bleeding. Fine proof of your point, Jack. “Well it’s all over now.” opines Jack, and shakes his head. I am eager to see the cops slap the cuffs on him, but they don’t. I guess it’s a small town. Maybe Jack has pull.
Montag’s barbecue. Clearly certain death to wander into.
We cut to Sherry and Jack having a picnic in their living room, with a drop cloth and some pillows laid out. We lead into our big finish – one of the stupidest endings I’ve ever seen. Sherry, talking to Jack, says, “But there are so many unanswered questions.” At this point my friends watching the show got excited, because THEY wanted the questions answered too. Sherry ticks off the questions one by one, my friends’ heads nodding along. I sit quiescent, a rattlesnake in wait, watching in mad internal glee.
1) “How could he hypnotize hands into bleeding?“
2) “How could he have killed all those women after his tricks?”
3) “What happened to all of the stolen bodies?”
4) “If he was planning to lead all of us into the fire, why did he die when you pushed him in?“
Good questions, no? My friends were actually bouncing up and down in their seats hoping for a closure on these questions, even the presumably lame-brained ones they were going to get. Little did they know.
Suddenly Jack peels rubber cement off his face … oh wait, it’s supposed to be a mask or something. OH HE’S MONTAG! Sherry screams, and Montag attacks her goes into a boring monologue about the nature of reality. After blithering for a while, he pulls off her top (but not her bra, smut-lovers) and suddenly she’s bloody everywhere. Yep one last gore scene as Montag plays in Sherry’s guts.
Then the show gets even less awesome, as Sherry starts to laugh, and sits up, and starts actually imitating Montag’s terrible acting style. She tells Montag that SHE is a mighty illusionist too (yes I know), and has her own boring monologue. And in fact, she tells Montag that HE is HER illusion, ruler of the past and future.
Montag is taken aback (who wouldn’t be?) Sherry then tells him he has to start “his little charade” all over again, and suddenly Montag is on stage once more, in his tux. We finish with Montag gurning away, giving one last monologue. We even see Sherry and Jack sitting in the seats watching. “Are you certain you know what reality is?” Yes, yes I am. And my reality has been made worse by seeing this gem.
My friends erupt into paroxysms of anger. Not only did HGL fail to tell us what was going on, he even taunted us by almost telling us – by bringing up the questions that plagued our minds. And then he basically gave us all the big middle finger. What a guy. No wonder I love to hate him.
Fortunately for us all, it was the former.
Editor Ken: Really, Sandy? Is it “The End…” as you so rashly assert?
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
I already talked about Ray Sager enough in the early part of the review.
Judy Cler (Sherry) & Wayne Ratay (Jack) were never in any other film. This is pretty much par for the course for HGL’s stars.
Shortest “where are they now” section ever.
Except for HGL who is still around and still occasionally making movies in between trying to score money via direct marketing. *gag* . He is currently (2010) finishing The Uh-Oh Show all of whose trailers indicate that HGL’s talent for film-making has not dwindled over the years. It has stark lighting, with crude special effects, and broad unfunny humor.
Eight years ago he did Blood Feast 2 which is actually the second sequel to Blood Feast. The first sequel was Blood Diner (1987) which was not made by HGL and which, despite its flaws, is superior to his work. It’s funnier, for one thing. I do notice that he hasn’t been picked for the various new straight-to-DVD collections like The Masters of Horror, or Films to Die For, so I guess he’s still not mainstream.
SOME COMMENTS ON HGL’S ACTORS
I don’t know where HGL found his actors – they’re usually not up to community theater standards. Though that’s an unfair comparison. Community theater actors can be entertaining and effective, as witness the Wisconsin indie horror film Aswang, which IMO is a little gem. The main villain is a hilariously evil yuppie whose previous roles consisted of entirely of on-stage musical comedies in the backwoods of the midwest. But he’s terrific – his skills in timing and reaction from song and dance routines really paid off form as he did his murderous deeds in Aswang.
Getting back on topic, HGL’s actors are generally just stiffs – they look nervous and embarrassed on-screen, like a junior-high student who has to give a class talk with a big new zit on his nose. Only rarely does one of HGL’s actors stand out, such as Ray Sager (Montag), or Elizabeth Davis (Mrs. Pringle in The Gruesome Twosome). Unfortunately, these thespians stand out because they are so memorably bad! They chew the scenery like Babe Ruth with a plug of Red Man, and leave the set in tatters. In only one single HGL movie of my acquaintance are his cornball actors effective (Two Thousand Maniacs) and all they had to do was portray over-the-top country-fried hicks. I’ve not seen any of HGL’s hillbilly comedies, but I suspect the rednecks from Two Thousand Maniacs spawned their antics. Frankly, the thought of an entire movie filled with HGL’s demented idea of humor fills me with Lovecraftian dread).