Cinema Obscura: The Wizard of Gore

This post was originally published on the DIDS website. Check out more reviews like this at From the Depths of DVD Hell


Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.

 

Since exploding on the scene towards the end of 2001, the Suicide Girls have become something of a culture phenomenon, having burst out of their web based roots to the point where they are now considered the alt-scene rival to both Hustler and Playboy with founder Missy Suicide frequently going on record with her claims that they receive more submissions than both those magazines combined. As the years have gone by and the profile of the site has grown, thanks largely to various celebrity endorsements from the likes of Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl, it was only really a matter of time before the Suicide Girls turned their attentions to the movies and this 2007 remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis original marked a pre-emptive strike by the girls to break into the market before releasing "Suicide Girls Must Die!" in 2010.

I should state at this point before I go any further that I am looking at this film, purely on its own merits, rather than drawing comparisons to the 1970 Herschell Gordon Lewis original, which some of you no doubt hold dear like it's director the legendry grandmaster of splatter and will no doubt be up in arms about someone daring to remake one of his films, but seeing how I last watched the original, a couple of years back and not being able to find a copy in time for this review, I have for this reason decided to just look at this film on its own, without drawing comparisons between the original and this remake.

Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) is a reporter for his own underground newspaper, obsessed with the obscure and bizarre nightlife of the Post Punk LA he lives in. After watching one of the elaborate magic shows put on by Montag The Magnificent (Crispin Glover), a magician with very dark twist as in his shows he seemingly kills members of the audience in various gory ways, only for them to appear unharmed at the end of the trick. However, when these volunteers start turning up dead, in ways similar to how they appeared to die on stage, Edmund decides to conduct his own investigation.

Opening with a blood drenched Edmund, as he staggers towards a strip club, clutching the latest issue of his newspaper, his Noir Esq. voice over gives us a quick background on his character, as it’s safe to say this film hits the ground running, throwing us head first into this decaying Post Punk version of LA, which Director Jeremy Kasten has chosen as the setting for his retelling of the Splatter classic which he has chosen to use as the base for his love letter to the LA Underground scene.

What first becomes apparent with this remake, is the overwhelming feeling it that the Director Kasten wasn’t sure how he could tell a Noir style psycho-thriller, within this world he has created, something which might go a long way to explaining why both Edmund and his girlfriend Maggie, are dressed like they are from the 1940’s with their retro tastes also stretching to their home life as well, with Edmund’s apartment being decorated with various old fashioned items from the period, while meanwhile the majority of the inhabitants of this world he has chosen for his setting are dressed more Punk or just with the sole intention of causing offense, such as characters like Hans (Bob Rusch) who appears during the first of Montag’s performances wearing a Nazi uniform, while during the opening party scenes we also get a quick shot of “Blood Wrestling”, which was ironically only added after several of the Suicide girls who had turned up to be party extra’s bugged Kasten to have them killed in the film and as a compromise created this scene, which actually works well in developing Edmund’s character, as he just smiles upon seeing this scene of naked women wrestling in blood, clearly having become immune at this point, from being shocked by this underground world, he has become fascinated with, while at the same time preferring it seems to remain an observer, rather than joining in and it’s Montag’s performance’s which to his surprise actually manages to shock him, despite him initially dismissing the act.

Montag’s performances are all equally bloody and gooey, as the (unwitting) volunteers appear to get killed in several horrible ways which include being burned alive and death by bear traps. The volunteers played here by Suicide girls Flux Suicide, Cricket Suicide, Nixon Suicide and Amina Munster (who makes the most of having no leg in real life, by having it torn off in the film) are all surprisingly convincing as actors for the small amount of screen time which they have, especially Flux who actually has one of the more important scenes of the film, but even more surprising is that you never once do you get the feeling that, they have been used just because of their “Suicide Girl” links or as that the film is some kind of shameless "Suicide Girls" plus, especially after all it is one of the selling points of the DVD to lure weak minded men / women folk like myself, drawn in by the “Featuring the suicide girls” tagline on the DVD cover.

Director Kasten has assembled a great group of horror heavyweights including Crispin Glover, Jeffrey Combs, Brad Dourif all of which are great in their respective rolls, with Glover acting truly off the hook with a performance which is almost hypnotic with his showmanship as the Magician Montag, as he prances around the stage while constantly addressing his audience with his random rants about the embodiment of self. Meanwhile Jeffery Combs is almost unrecognizable, until the end of the film as “The Geek”, spending the film dressed like a crazy homeless person, as he provides the warm up act for the show, biting the heads of rats and performing other equally disgusting acts, much to the intended repulsion of the gathered crowd. Brad Dourif is basically back in his usual crazy role as Doctor Chong, which is the kind of role we have to come to expect from him, when he is not providing the voice of the psycho doll Chucky in the “Childs Play” films. Meanwhile the rest of the cast do a great job with Kip Pardue more than capable of playing the lead, keeping the audience intrigued, while never giving the final twist away, as he forces the audience to see only what Edmund see’s, uncovering the puzzle one piece at a time as he slowly puts it all together. I also should mention that this is probably one of the few films, where I haven’t been truly irritated by Bijou Phillips, who usually I find either too sleazy or just plain annoying, but here I felt none of that and was surprisingly sold on the apparent innocence of her character Maggie, who is clearly not as comfortable in this alternative world as Edmund seems to be, constantly sticking close to him when confronted with anything that invades her little bubble of innocence that she has created for herself, while often appearing shocked at just how deep into this world Edmund has immersed himself.

The main problem I have with this film though, is mainly with how it is many ways attempting to fight well above its weight, with the story often getting confusing with the numerous layers, which Director Kasten has chosen to add to his vision, meaning that we are often bogged down in confusing visuals and making it hard to distinguish between the dream world and reality, something which it seems is clearly his intention, seemingly being represented of the mental state of Edmund though perhaps in the hands of another director, more familiar with this dream like style of film making, as sadly it detracts from what is generally a very watchable film. Still despite these issues I would certainly be interested in seeing more of his films, as the experience of watching “Wizard of Gore” certainly didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, unlike so many remakes that are churned out these days, it’s just more of a confused feeling that I now have to contend with. “Wizard of Gore” might get the backs up of the Herschell Gordon Lewis fan base and will no doubt be stumbled upon by fans drawn in more by the names featured on the cover, but it is certainly a film that deserves a watch (or two) as it is a film that has managed to at least escape the taboo of being a remake, to the point where it is a noteworthy film on its own merits, even if it’s minus points will no doubt lose it more fans than it gains, while perhaps proving to be one of the more interesting things that the "Suicide Girls" have attached their marketing machine to.