Retro Film Report #34: The Wizard of Gore (1970)

My encounters with The Wizard of Gore began with a random selection at the local video store around 1988.  A friend and I watched it in my basement and were.... well, let's just say we were rather disappointed.  We weren't at a point in our lives to appreciate its tasteless charm.  We had taken dates to Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood earlier, and this just seemed so cheap and awful.

Then in 2007, I went to see Juno (2007) and witnessed Jason Bateman pop in a VHS copy of the film.  Was there something more to this grindhouse piece of shit? Well, 25 years after my first viewing, it was time to take another look.

The start was full of both promise and concern.  The concern: the quality of the picture (DVD) made me wonder if the original 1970 celluloid had marinated in a beef broth prior to release.  My bowl of Campbell's Chunky Sirloin Burger soup has a more vivid color scheme than this film.

On the plus side, there was miniskirt within the first few minutes.  So, the pros were outweighing the cons at this point.

One of these people is Fred M. Sandy - the executive producer.   My money's on the bald guy on the end.
Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) is a Vincent Price-esque magician.  He begins the movie with a genuinely awful soliloquy on the nature of reality. The writer obviously wanted to sound like Immanuel Kant, but sounds more like he has early onset Alzheimer's.

And who is the writer? None other than Allen Kahn who went on to do Year of the Yahoo (1972)... and then nothing else.

So anyway, Montag gets a volunteer from the audience, hypnotizes her, then puts her on the table.  The actress here is Karin Alexana who never acted again.  (I use the word "again" loosely, because that would imply that what she is doing in this film is acting).

Montag then whips out a Black & Decker chainsaw and proceeds to go medieval on poor hypnotized Karin.  This, of course, is director Herschel Gordon Lewis' especiality - delivering the gore.

HG Lewis was a master of grisly exploitation. His low budget films Color Me Blood Red, 10,000 Maniacs and Blood Feast have become cult classics, and he has served as an influence to legions of filmmakers. However, Lewis has since made a name for himself in a field far removed from his B-grade gorefests. He is a successful direct marketing consultant with dozens of books and articles to his credit. Nowadays he gets payed big bucks to provide companies with consultation on direct market advertising (go to his website here). See an example of one of his marketing books on Amazon here. What a far cry from Wizard of Gore!

Karin is, of course, completely unharmed, much to the delight of the inexplicably morbid audience.  After the show, Karin grabs a bite to eat at the local eatery.  Getting rendered unconscious and then mutilated by a chainsaw sure can work up an appetite.  Time for a Monte Cristo and glass of Fanta!

This brings me to perhaps the biggest selling point of The Wizard of Gore - the scenery. To hell with the gore - the styles, the decor.... it's a goddamn national treasure is what it is.

Whoops-a-daisy! Out of nowhere, Karin is dead from the chainsaw wounds.  What the hell is going on? It's as if Karin really was minced by Montag, but he had hypnotized her and the audience to think that she was really okay.  Later, her body just gives out despite her mind's continued delusion.

Or did Montag plant a seed in her mind that would resurface with deadly effects hours later?  In other words, that sonofabitch Montag made Karin think she was being murdered..... which then manifested itself in actual physiological harm?  There's plenty of research very real physical injury resulting from self-delusion.  It's a thing.

We are now introduced to the two main characters: Sherry is a TV personality - host of "Housewife's Coffee Break".  She's played by Judy Cler who never acted again.

Jack is her bland journalist fiance played by Wayne Ratay.  Wayne never acted in anything else either; although, he did co-produce a ultra-low budget horror flick called One of Them (2003).  I can't explain how or why he left the movie biz for 33 years only to return with this cheapo film.  What did he do in between? - It would be interesting to learn.

Jack and Sherry notice a commotion outside the restaurant, and use their journalist cred to get them to the front of the herd of morbid spectators.  Dead Karin is being hauled away in an ambulance and her bloody hand inadvertently brushes against Sherry's.  "Ick!"  Her revulsion is palpable.  She's the host of "Housewife's Coffee Break" not a battlefield reporter - what do you expect?

The next day, we find Jack busy behind a typewriter.  I could stare at this scene in an infinite loop for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it.  You can almost smell the carbon paper!

Meanwhile, Sherry is extolling the wonders of Montag the Magnificent on "Housewife's Coffee Break".  The gal is straight up infatuated with it.

Note: WTVO Channel 17 is a northern Illinois station (originally an NBC affiliate before it became an ABC station).  The Wizard of Gore was filmed in Chicago, HG Lewis' hometown.

Sherry pays a visit to Montag to see if he'll appear on her crummy TV show.  The magician behaves like an arrogant douche bag and, instead, recommends she watch another one of his demented performances tonight.

BTW without his magician costume on, Ray Sager looks a lot more like a grey haired Harry Reems than mystical Svengali.  The Casual Montag look wasn't doing it for me.  I don't want to see Metallica in Dockers and I don't want to see Montag with his shirt unbuttoned.  But that's just me.

That evening Montag puts on another show for the citizens of Northern Illinois, who evidently have a real bloodlust.  This time the hapless victim is played by Corinne Kirkin, who like nearly everyone involved in this film, never went on to act again.

The ever skeptical Jack volunteers to test the iron spike, and Montag proceeds to hammer it into the left temple of Corinne.

I should mention that I'm not a fan of gore.  I understand it had shock value in 1970, but it does nothing for me.  I much prefer a movie like Halloween (1978) which is low on gore and high on terror - a concept completely lost on Rob Zombie's remake.

That being said, the gore in this film is actually pretty damn good.  Unlike modern films like Hostel and Saw which revel in the graphic violence but fail to make me the least bit queasy, The Wizard of Gore actually made me wee bit grossed out.  Supposedly, sheep guts were used in the making of this film .  

The next day, Jack reads the headline in The Gazette - another killing.... and both victims have been volunteers for Montag! Could there be a connection.

Notice how fake this newspaper is.  The articles have obviously been pasted on.  Notice that the "U.S. School" article is actually peeling off the page.

Meanwhile at the Chicken Unlimited, Jack meets with his journalist friend, Greg, to discuss the murders.  The scene is fairly redundant - what captured my attention was the restaurant. 

Chicken Unlimited began in the Chicago area in 1965.  It was an instant success, and by the early seventies it had set up franchises in Florida and New York.  Maybe it was partially due to the free advertising in The Wizard of Gore (just kidding).

Unfortunately, Chicken Unlimited's success was also its downfall.  By 1976, the chicken chain closed its doors due to defaulted mortgages and uncollected franchise fees. 

But this all neither here nor there.  We've got a murder spree and a psychotic magician to contend with.  

The next night, another volunteer is taken to the stage - this time she's smashed by a punchpress.  This actress is Monica Blackwell - a very nice sounding Hollywood name, but she never acted again.

Not surprisingly, ol' Monica turns up dead in her bedroom later that night - discovered by her neighbor, Mr. Kuhwiki (spelled phonetically - he's not listed int he IMDb cast).  If you're getting the distinct impression that this film is becoming repetitive, you'd be absolutely correct.  

Sherry and Jack meet with the detectives to take turns woodenly reading their lines. The gang is perplexed how there's no murder weapons and they can't put Montag anywhere near the crime scenes.  Why these seasoned law enforcement officers would brainstorm with Jimmy Olsen and Kathy Lee Gifford is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stupidity.

Their master plan? Go to another show. (groan)

Chainsaw, metal spike, punchpress, and now sword swallowing.  Two miniskirted lasses are forced to deep throat a couple of sharp objects, much to the delight of the maniacally twisted Northern Illinois crowd.

Sally Brody and Karen Burke play the two volunteers.  According to IMDb, Karen went on to act in a beyond-obscure short film called Dancin' Curtain Call: Bob Fosse (1978).  Yeesh.  It appears Montag also could kill careers.

Sally cashes in her chips behind the wheel of a car and the late Karen is found in a foyer.  I'd say the plot thickens, but I think it would be more appropriate to say the plot grows weary. You know it's bad when you're praying for another Chicken Unlimited scene to relieve the monotony.

Their plan being an abysmal failure, the gang returns to the police station. A couple more cupcakes have croaked - and this crack crew of criminalists are clueless.

What's the new plan?  Montag is to appear on Sherry's Coffee Talk show.  Much to Jack's protestation, she will act as the guinea pig.  Sounds like a reasonable strategy to me.

The next morning, Sherry leaves for work while lazy-ass still lounges in bed.  Notice her hand touching his?  After she leaves, Jack notices that his hand is covered with blood! Remember when Sherry's hand touched the dead girls at the beginning of the film?  That's what I call foreshadowing, folks!  Jack also has a hard time removing the bloodstain - perhaps an allusion to Lady Macbeth? "Out, out, damn spot!"
"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red."

Back at Channel 17, local Northern Illinois homes are treated to a special guest - the ghoulish David Copperfield himself, Montag the Magnificent.  This time, he has a diabolical trick up his sleeve (insert evil laughter here).

Later on "Housewife's Coffee Break": local petting zoo owner, Frank Sherman, and Joyce Shatz shows you how to make a delicious Jello mold with mixed fruit inside.  Stay tuned!

Montag, always the camera whore, hypnotizes the entire Northern Illinois audience into a zombified state with bloody hands.  Why kids would be watching "Housewife's Coffee Break" is beyond me, but so it is.  I can only assume TV viewers watching reruns of Petticoat Junction on the other channel were unharmed.

Montag then leads the crew of "Housewife's Coffee Break" and the detectives in a Conga Line of Death.  He builds a fire and commands them to hurl themselves into it.

SPOILER ALERT : But wait! It turns out Jack didn't sleep in after all.  Jack dashes to the rescue and pushes Montag into the flames to his "death".  (Use air quotes when reading that last word).

It's also worth a mention that the fire is substantially smaller than Girl Scout campfire.  Big enough to roast Smores.... but only deadly to small, elderly insects.  How in God's name, Montag could die from this is rather perplexing.  Was he made out of paper mâché?

Later, the engaged couple toast the champagne.  Sherry is still a tad confused as to WTF just happened.  How did Jack manage to evade the hypnotism and the whole bloody hand thingy?  Simple, he just didn't look at his eyes. Why no one in the entire Chicago metro area thought to do this except him is.... well, let's just a tad perplexing.

But wait!  Before Sherry's very eyes, Jack peels away his skin and becomes Montag and starts murdering her ass!  What in the Nine Hells?  

Remember when I told you that writer Allen Kahn fashioned himself a modern day Immanuel Kant?  Ole Allen really goes buck wild at this point with the whole 'what is reality" concept.

If you can ignore Sherry's leopard print panties for a moment and concentrate on the nature of reality, I'd really appreciate it.  

The Wizard of Gore is an obvious play on The Wizard of Oz which also had a reality bending ending.  Unlike the L. Frank Baum books, it was all just an elaborate dream of Dorthy.  A plot device used by many a horror film (i.e. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm).  But reality gets even more confused....

Sherry starts laughing maniacally, An outraged Montag is aghast as she informs him that he's not the only Master of Reality.  
"You are my illusion. You are no longer even here. You'll have to start your little charade all over again."

Montag is back on stage and Sherry and Jack are in the audience like it all never happened.  Sherry whispers to Jack "I think he's a phony".

So, we have many possible answers to what happened.  Perhaps, Montag has dreamed the entire thing under the spell of Sherry in the audience.  A surprisingly feminist perspective for a very misogynistic film.   

Add to that, the many layers of reality in that we are watching a film about a stage show which is about illusion which is about the question of reality. It's all very meta. We are spectators watching spectators - whose reality is real? Whether it's her lame "Housewife's Coffee Break" or Montag's grisly stage show, we are participants in the "magic act" watching the shadows on the cave wall and calling it "reality".


  1. Wasn't Chicken Unlimited the "Tasty as Pheasant, Tender as Quail" place?

    I grew up in Northern Illinois, and used to eat there regularly.

  2. The best piece of advice for you and the readers of this particular post:
    Get a copy of 'Bloodsucking Freaks' with the commentary from Eli Roth, director of Hostel et cet. His commentary is amazing- claiming that Tarintino studied this disgusting, over-the-top film when looking for clothing styles when making Jackie Brown, how scenes would inspire those from The English Patient...

  3. Lovely post it seemed I was watching it in cinema.
    Connie Jordan-Carmichael

  4. Great post as usual. As I read this, I have on WTVO channel 17 morning news. They are now an ABC station in Rockford, IL.

  5. (apologies for nitpicking)

    payed = paid

    1. Alas, if this were the only error within this post I'd be a happy man. One day I'll actually proofread my posts before publishing them.

  6. GREAT POST!! LOVE H G Lewis and this is my favorite, along with Gore Gore Girls, both must-haves for horror fans...going to link you up with this post and one of my blogs...thanks again!

  7. The ending of this film is more twisted than a Slinky tumbling around in a clothes dryer. But I can only imagine that it left the audience feeling less cheated than the lost season of Dallas or the conclusion of Nick Cage's movie Next. The gore in this marvelous post did not deter me from craving a bowl of Campbell's Chunky Sirloin Burger Soup so excuse me while I prove I'm not a robot and head for the kitchen cupboard.