Need a little horror? Look no further than WIZARD OF GORE. Director Jeremy Kasten puts a fresh spin on the 1970 horror classic of the same name by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Always difficult at best to remake a classic done by a master, Kasten is a master in his own right with this 2007 film. And I have to say it – this film is fascinating.
For those of you not familiar with the story, Montag the Magnificent is a master illusionist, but with a twist. Not content with being a David Copperfield, Montag opts for the obscene, the perverse, the horrific. He only appears at hidden underground venues, much like a rave in today’s party scene. His “victims” are female volunteers from the audience who appear to be dismembered right in front of the audience, but then live to walk away from the illusion with nary a scratch on them….at least until they turn up dead later with the very same wounds as those inflicted during Montag’s performance. Enter reporter Edmund Bigelow, publisher of the Cacophony Gazette who stumbles onto what could be the most sensational story of his career – the murders and Montag. Drawn into Montag’s macabre world by his girlfriend, Maggie, Edmund soon find himself embroiled in the investigator and manhunt, calling on friends in the coroner’s office and the underworld to satisfy his burning desire to uncover the truth.
Crispin Glover is the only person on this planet but perhaps for Johnny Depp, that I see as ever being able to pull off the role of Montag with the flair, aplomb and subversive decadence required of the role. He is beyond brilliant. Simply mesmerizing. The role of Edmund is an interesting turn for Kip Pardue. I caught him this past season on ER and to see him go from his recurring role there to Edmund is quite a leap. And while his performance vacillates with a few inconsistencies, his depth as an actor is quite apparent. Bijou Phillips, in multiple LAFF films this year, is such a talented actress and as Maggie, is such an integral part to the story, there are times a scene just cries for her to have more impact and often with a tacit intensity. For all you horror afficionados out there, be on the lookout for Brad Dourif. Kudos to Kasten and crew on nailing this horror icon.
Let me just say, director Jeremy Kasten is a kick in the butt. Wearing his own turn of the 19th century magician’s tuxedo complete with rose boutonniere to the premiere, he is passionate about his work and delights in the fascination of this film. Written by Zach Chassler, the script is inspired with enough freshness so when combined with Kasten’s vision, the story doesn’t stagnate or rely on stylings of Allen Kahn’s 1970’s script.
The play of light mixed with the smoke and mirrors is impeccably executed by cinematographer Chris Duddy. Long a favorite cinematographer of mine, he has a stamp of excellence that permeates all of this works from “Dante’s Peak” to “Clockstoppers” to “Nemesis” and “The Sum of All Fears.” I can see similarities with his palate and lighting in WIZARD OF GORE with that in “The Sum of All Fears” and “Dante’s Peak” (both of which I loved). A superlative selective with Chris Duddy.
As a whole, I think the film could be trimmed by a good 15-20 minutes. There are a few parts of the film that lag and drag – most noticeably in the middle where I got a sense that Kasten lost his way to the set and the shoot was proceeding without him. There are also a few parts of the story that are not fleshed out for such an extended period of time that when the pieces do come together, it seems like an after-thought, and again, it harkens to the mid-section. As I discussed my thoughts with Kasten, and while we both agreed that more blood and gore would have been welcome, he explained, “I wanted to do this film and I wanted to do it my way but I had to give in to the producers on a few things in order to keep my vision in the end.”
Remaking the original classic WIZARD OF GORE was a daunting task. And despite a few missteps, in the end, as a director Kasten holds his own against that of a former master. And fortunately, unlike a few Gus Van Sant remakes, Kasten puts his own stamp on the project thanks not only to Crispin Glover’s over the top winning flamboyance, but more demonstrative gore.