A man’s amazement with a magician turns to an unhealthy addiction
Two things grab you right off the mark: Christopher Duddy’s noir-esque cinematography and Crispin Glover as Montag – a role he was born to play. And once you’re sucked into the movie, it has a hard time letting you go. After all, Brad Dourif, Jeffrey Combs, Bijou Phillips, Kip Pardue, and Joshua John Miller, also star.
The story follows fedora and suspender wearing Edmund Bigelow (Pardue), as if Peter Weller portraying Bill Lee in NAKED LUNCH (1991), and his vivacious little vixen girlfriend that is Maggie (Phillips). On Halloween, the pair visit a show with Montag the Magnificient, and after a masterful display of on-stage carnage, where he appears to brutally murder an audience member, Ed leaves spellbound. Captivated by the magician’s penchant for rattling souls and waking audiences from the dead, as if Montag were the mastermind behind the New French Extremity in cinema, intellectual Ed returns night after night as if to stay awake, because this passionless persona is missing something in his life – a connection – that he can find nowhere else except in the spectacle that is Montag’s show. And even when he learns that the surviving volunteer for the act was later found murdered, Ed can’t stop himself from attending, as if the show in which he bears witness is an all-powerful drug.
It’s hard not to be enthralled by the white tux wearing Montag with a codpiece the size of a small nation. Brilliantly played by Glover, who delivers scene after scene with vibrant intonations as well as great feats of physical showmanship, Montag may be one of the best on-screen villains to capture the screen since HELLRAISER’s (1987) Pinhead. With Glover’s panache, grace and over-the-top carinval barker-like belittling of the audience, one will find it hard not to fall in love. For Glover, this is one of his most animated roles and he plays it with abandon and unrivaled energy.
Other characters also spring to life, but in muted ways. After all, the characters, like the movie, are dark and subdued, as if the Necronomicon is real and had painted its bleakness over the world. The only soul truly alive and riveting in the movie is Montag, that bright shining, self-centered star of the stage. But he is only acting, spinning plates with his words to awaken a bored audience of Goth kids, punks, outsiders and anarchy loving lost souls desensitized by a sterilized modern world. Dr. Chong (Dourif) seems tough and respected, but he’s a charlatan of an accupuncturist hellbent on self-preservation and fleeting discourse, coroner assistant Jinky (Miller) is a reject from the Scooby-gang because of a bitter and often socially inept demeanor, Maggie seems like a weathered drug addict coming down hard from her latest high, and Ed is as detached as he is arrogant. Together, the troupe complements a watered-down America aloof and living in a bubble, following like sheep when they can’t even fathom that they’re being led to the slaughter.
Yet Pardue seems out of place in his own suit, which is oversized to his just over six foot frame (think David Byrne of the Talking Heads during their “Stop Making Sense” days from 1984). The shoulders of the jacket, the heavy black-rimmed glasses and the fedora’s brim make him look smaller than he actually is in reality. But costume Designer Carrie Grace is no slouch, and she made certain the clothes complemented every actor, even in the smallest of roles. Therefore, if we take into account Ed’s elitism, it’s no wonder he’s like a kid lost in a suit. The 1940’s look for Ed highlights the fact that he sees himself as something older and wiser than his fellow man. While trying to look hipper, older, more together and in charge, he’s actually laughable and out of his league. As Ed will soon discover, he doesn’t “have it together” and he is no wiser than bums in the street or seemingly vacant night owls in the shadows. He’s lost in a herd of the lost – but he’s the only one who doesn’t know it.
But why, with a mad magician, dead volunteers from the audience, and Cronenberg- and Lynch-like goings-on, does the movie seem to be missing something? The answer may be in first time scribe Zach Chassler’s script. The movie is riveting, fantastical, horrifying and satirical, yet amiss in what Pardue calls a “horror noir”. The horror is present and it’s perfect, though the mystery portion is sorely lacking.
Ed expresses concern for the nightly murders of those who had earlier appeared on the master magician’s stage, though it seems as if his intrigue comes from a place where Ed believes he “has to” feel this way instead of any real pathos. Then Ed investigates – sort of. Although Duddy’s lighting and John Pollard’s production design capture that noir feel, Ed is no Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Where the aforementioned took the mystery into their own hands and turned over stones and knocked down doors to solve the mystery, Ed is a lump and does little exploration. Instead, he relies on what is given to him from the likes of Maggie, Jinky and Dr. Chong, and never gets dirty from getting too close to the truth. We never feel as if he’s in danger. If Ed were James Bond, he’d be a dapper Roger Moore instead of a rugged Sean Connery. The lack of Ed truly being on a trail of discovery, and without there being any real stakes for him, prevents THE WIZARD OF GORE from truly wowing the audience. Additionally, the plot does become convoluted, but if one pays attention, logic will win out, though the suspense akin to a vibrant thriller is clearly absent.
As a director, Jeremy Kasten has done it all in filmmaking: editor, producer, actor, writer and cameramn. But as the man at the helm, he is hit (2001’s THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS and 2011’s THE THEATRE BIZARRE) and miss (2005 and 2006’s THE THIRST and ALL SOULS DAY: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS). Most notable is that his “hits” are also full of elements that leave an audience feeling shortchanged, and THE WIZARD OF GORE is another feature that with a little more attention to story, could have made it one of the best in horror history.
Watch the movie and judge for yourself. The unrated edition is wonderful, loaded with great interviews and bonus segments for fans. As for Glover, his performance will resonate. To get in the mood, check out Scarling’s amazing tune, “Crispin Glover” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yc7hMWdG3Pg) because singer-songwriter Jessika could never get enough of him – and after THE WIZARD OF GORE, you’ll definitely want more of him as well. But why didn’t I mention long time horror favorite Jeffrey Combs? Watch for yourself.
3.5 out of 5 stars