Posts Tagged ‘Herschell Gordon Lewis’

Between 2003 and 2008, Rick Popko and Dan West of Bay Area “comedy-horror” production house 4321 films got busy : not only did they make sure that they’d have a lot more money to work with (a cool $500,000 if IMDB is to be believed) when they got behind (and in front of) the cameras for Retardead, the sequel/follow-up to their earlier Monsturd,  but they also honed their craft and conspicuously updated their equipment. The end result? Something that looks a whole hell of a lot more professional than their debut effort, yet somehow manages to hang onto all the low-grade “charm” of its predecessor despite the obvious quantum(-ish) leap in production values. In my book, that’s a fairly impressive achievement in and of itself right there even if this film were to somehow manage not to get anything else right.

I’m happy to report that such is not the case, however, and to be honest I have no idea how and/or why Troma never secured the distribution rights for this one (like Monsturd, it’s available on DVD from Brain Damage Films, and with a significantly larger quantity of extras), because it’s actually several orders of magnitude better than most of what Lloyd Kaufman’s outfit has been dumping out onto the public for the last several years. Oh well, guess they missed the boat — again.

The premise for this one is as follows : quintessential mad scientist Dr. Stern (Dan Burr reprising his role) is back at it, this time “armed” with an intelligence-enhancing serum that he’s using on the residents/students of the Butte County Institute For Special Education, a haphazardly-administered center for the intellectually challenged (barely) overseen by a nameless director played by Michael Allen. The side effects of this miracle juice are pretty severe, though, it must be said, given that it first kills its less-than-lucky recipients and then causes them to rise from the dead as flesh-and-brains-craving zombies. So, hey, there’s some work to be done before it can be mass-marketed, obviously.

So, anyway, zombies everywhere is what this one’s all about, and most of ’em are roughly akin, appearance-wise, to those of Romero’s original Dawn Of The Dead, while the spilling innards and gut-munching are pure Day Of — all the way. A handful (or, perhaps more appropriately, a stomach-full) of Tom Savini’s more memorable effects sequences are re-packaged/re-purposed to great effect here, albeit with a fraction of the cash, but what of it? If sheer originality is your bag it’s doubtful you’d ever find yourself watching a flick like this in the first place — you’re on this ride to see how well they do what they can with what they’ve got, and by that standard, Popko and West acquit themselves very skillfully, indeed.

Meanwhile back in what passes for the plot, the local cops (Paul Weiner’s Sheriff Duncan, Popko’s Deputy Rick and West’s Deputy Dan) are busy trying to track down a public masturbator who’s flaunting them at every turn, but when their new and bigger problem hits, FBI agent Hannigan (Beth West) is called back in, along with some extra backup, most notably a broadly-caricatured “G-Man” named Russo (Tony Adams), and in fairly short order juvenile, dare I say retarded, semi-hilarity with blood and guts to spare unfolds non-stop on your TV screen/computer/whatever, all of it as hopelessly lame as it is hopelessly addicting.

Do you wish you weren’t the sort of person who finds laughing at the unfortunate to be humorous? I know I sure do. But there’s plenty of other absurd shit on hand here that you don’t necessarily have to feel guilty about chuckling at, including an attack by a half-dozen gyrating zombie-babes, a random-ass LSD trip, a visit to an old-school porn shop, and some super-cheesy trailers for non-existent horror films featuring staple characters like Jack The Ripper and Frankenstein, most played by Popko and West themselves. Throw in a bit of voice-over narration at the beginning from none other than “Godfather Of Gore” Hersechell Gordon Lewis himself (the spiritual forefather of all the deliciously grisly practical FX this film is drenched in) and a cameo from the still-awesome-after-all-these-years Jello Biafra as the local mayor (a job he actually ran for in San Francisco himself once) , and this is a film that’s pretty much pre-programmed to hit all the right notes for trash cinema lovers like me and, presumably, you. Of course Retardead isn’t a good movie — it’s a horrible, lousy, tasteless, stupid, irredeemably bad movie. But it’s a great one, at that.

Halloween might be over (just barely), but you know we’re not done talking about horror movies here because — well, shit, we never are. We’re just shifting our focus slightly given that it’s been far too long since we ran a “Grindhouse Classics” review here, and even farther too long (ummm — I’d better check that for grammatical accuracy) since we looked at a flick from the “Godfather of Gore” himself, the incomparable Herschell Gordon Lewis. Seriously, what kind of self-respecting “B-Movie” blog doesn’t find its way back to HGL at least once every few months or so?

The answer, apparently, is this one, so please allow me to make up for lost time by telling you, dear reader, about the sublime pleasures of 1970’s The Wizard Of Gore, a film especially worthy of attention given that our friends over at the Movie And Music Network have made it freely available to followers of this site simply by clicking on the link underneath the photo of the poster above. Yeah, it’s also available on both DVD and Blu-Ray (where it’s paired with The Gore Gore Girls) from Something Weird Video, and it’s definitely worth a purchase in either or both of those formats given that SWV have pulled out all the stops by remastering the full-frame picture and mono sound and loading the packages up with extras like a full-length commentary track from Lewis himself and a very cool gallery of exploitation stills, promo photos, etc., but still — free is free, right? And the Something Weird channel over at MMN has a boat-load of other great titles worth checking out, as well, so hey — I strongly encourage you to support the fine work these folks are doing by clicking the link and watching this movie at no cost to you.

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Hell, even if you’ve seen this before — and it’s a good best many, if not most, of you have — it’s one of those true gems that’s worth re-visiting every year or two just because it’s so goddamned much fun. Honestly, if you love Lewis, everything you want is in here — hilariously OTT performances, tons of low-grade gore effects that are heavy on the red Karo syrup and store-bought meat. wooden supporting characters, cheap sets and costumes, and as an added bonus, a little bit of the poorly-thought-through mind-fuckery that permeates his drug-sploitation opus,   Something Weird,  sneaks its way into the ending here, as well. What more could you possibly ask for?

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I’m assuming that only the briefest of plot recaps is in order here, so here goes : bellicose magician Montag the Magnificent ( last-minute substitute “star” Ray Sager, who goes about his work with a shit-ton of gusto but zero talent, and looks a lot  like a 75-year-old Harry Reems) is packing houses in an unnamed (but obviously South Florida-located) town with his bloody spectacle of a show that features the ultra-violent, slow-burn dismemberment, disembowelment, and all-around sadistic torture of female volunteers from his audience. You name it, he sticks these ladies into it — guillotines, punch presses, the list is endless and highly varied. But hey — it’s just show biz, right? And moments after being butchered in front of everyone’s eyes, the gals are all back, and seemingly none the worse for wear.

Except — they all tend to turn up dead, this time for real, later on, and usually by the exact same method they at least looked to be killed by during the show.

That might raise some suspicions to you or I, but for TV chat-show host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler — whose daytime program is the quaintly-titled “Housewives’ Coffee Break”), her motives are a bit different. Having witnessed Montag’s act not once,  but twice, in the company of her personality-free boyfriend, Jack (Wayne Ratay), she’s more concerned with proving our guy to be a not-so-magnificent fraud. One has to wonder if she’d even be pursuing the story at all if the women just died on stage rather like they were “supposed” to.

Still, such absurdities of logic (isn’t all illusion technically “fraudulent”?) have no place in the examination of an HGL production, because — well, they just don’t. These flicks operate under their own set of rules, where the only consideration being pursued is how to get the whole thing done as gruesomely and cheaply as possible. Viewed through that lens — provided you can put aside your concerns about the film’s blatantly obvious misogyny, of course — The Wizard Of Gore  can be considered nothing but an astonishing success.

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Please, though, whatever you’re doing, don’t come into this looking for an explanation as to how all this shit is happening by the time it’s over. It’s not that Herschell doesn’t provide one — it’s just that he and screenwriter Allen Kahn don’t care if it makes any sense. We all know that “mind-bending” psychedelia was the order of the day back when this thing came out, but even by the non-standards of the time, the non-resolution offered here strains credulity well beyond the breaking point. You just have to simply not give a shit about anything other than blood, guts, and sleaze to appreciate The Wizard Of Gore for what it is — namely, a non-stop parade of, well, blood, guts, and sleaze that certainly never takes itself at all seriously and assumes, quite rightly, that you won’t (or at least shouldn’t), either.

That certainly doesn’t add up to it being anything like a conventionally-defined “good” movie, but so what? The fun here is in the fact that it’s not a conventionally-defined “bad” movie, either — or even a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie. It’s just pure, unmitigated, balls-to-the-walls shlock and shock, with absolutely nothing to offer by way of any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Not only is there no “message” to be gleaned from its proceedings, there’s no point. You may call that whatever you wish, but I call it a very special brand of genius.

It’s easy to get distracted by Halloween horror marathons, sidesteps into the world of comics, the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, noteworthy documentaries, etc., but flicks like The Wizard Of Gore remain, at the end of the day, what we’re all about here at TFG. Follow the link up top, watch it now, wallow in the celluloid filth, and love every minute of it.