Friday, March 21, 2008

Boston Underground Film Festival 2008: The Wizard of Gore

BUFF is an odd festival for me; I know, going in, that I'm probably going to dislike roughly half of what I see there, really viscerally hating some of it. I get email about those reviews, saying I didn't get the movies - it's not as much fun as when the directors of small documentaries are just thrilled that someone saw and wrote about their work.

That's part of why I didn't ask for a pass this year; I didn't want to feel obligated to see and write about everything. Then I saw the lineup and saw it looked good enough to buy a festival pass for. I don't know that I'll necessarily see enough movies this weekend to make the pass worth more than buying single tickets, but not having to wait in line and see if I can get in is worth something.

Anyway, if you're reading this within an hour or three of my posting it, you might be able to catch The Wizard of Gore at its encore show at the Brattle, today at 2:30pm. Otherwise, you're probably waiting until Dimension Extreme releases the DVD late this summer.

The Wizard of Gore

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2008 at the Brattle Theater (BUFF X)

You've got to love how the title "The Wizard of Gore" puts it right out there, both for the Herschell Gordon Lewis original and Jeremy Kasten's new remake: This is one for the folks who like blood and guts. It does have ambitions beyond that, sure, but like the title character, it knows you've got to sell the visceral.

Said title character is Montag the Magnificent (Crispin Glover), a stage magician whose underground magic shows feature a woman being pulled from the audience, horribly mutilated, and then restored to life. The next day, though, she is found dead of wounds like the ones she apparently suffered during the show. Underground newspaper publisher Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) and his girlfriend Maggie (Bijou Phillips) have been going to these shows, and team up with Edmunds coroner friend Jinky (Joshua John Miller) to investigate.

As befits a mystery story centered around a magic show, much of what we and Edmund see and learn is lies and misdirection, a challenge to figure out what is really going on. As mysteries go, it's not bad, although it does hinge on a somewhat fantastical element that, while it is revealed early enough to be considered fair play, still requires a bit of a leap of faith from the audience. The setting is a little peculiar, too - a subtitle early on reminds us that the film takes place in the present day, since one might get the impression from Edmund's vintage suits, printing press, and apartment decor that it takes place in the past, while the industrial-goth style everywhere else might suggest "bleak (near) future" to us boring middle-class suburban types.

The cast, at the very least, is a bunch of fun. Pardue comes across as a sort of lower-cost Matt Damon, not quite managing the charm but convincingly deteriorating as the film goes along. Bijou Phillips and Joshua John Miller are fairly likable as his partners-in-crime-solving. But it's the familiar faces in supporting roles that are the big draw: Brad Dourif as a local herbalist and acupuncture practitioner who uses leeches to cleanse his blood makes exposition fun. Jeffrey Combs is almost unrecognizable at first, but does well in his creepy part. And then there's Crispin Glover, spending almost all his time on stage, playing the creepy showman as funny and threatening as few others could.

But what, you may ask, of the gore? To be honest... It's a little disappointing. Kasten and writer Zach Chassler come up with imaginative ways to dispatch a series of Suicide Girl models and various others, and there are a couple of nasty money shots, but if you've got "gore" in the title, you should probably be raising the bar or something. Also, most of the bloody scenes during the magic shows are kind of difficult to see - there's a prop that consistently gets in the way, the lighting is low, and the quality of the digital projection wasn't that great. The latter means it might look better in another situation, but I don't get the rest - if you're selling gore, let us see the gore.

Clearer shots of the viscera probably wouldn't make this new Wizard of Gore a good film, even with the genre's frequently lowered expectations - the story's kind of a mess, for starters. Still, it's a decent enough effort, and not really a bad choice if you're in the video store looking for a bit of blood, camp, and nudity that you haven't seen before.

Also at HBS.

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