I wrote down something that’s probably significant directly after watching this film: “That was Circus of Horrors meets The House on Haunted Hill via film noir”. Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Anything with that scope of reference has to have some kind of ‘interest value’ at the very least?
It largely depends what you’re interested in. If you want yet another remake of yet another 1960s splatter film with yet another incomprehensible plot and yet more buckets of fake blood, this will be very interesting indeed. Montag the Magnificent (an on-form but slightly bored Crispin Glover) performs hideous acts on women during his magic show, only for them to suddenly re-appear unharmed. The audience is, naturally, horrifed, but breaks into voluminous applause on discovering that they didn’t just watch a live murder.
Or maybe they did. The women start turning up dead, and journo Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue) becomes obsessed with the act, trying to find out how it’s all done and who’s doing the real killing. Naturally there is no standard, normal explanation, and we end up with some plot about hallucinogenic drugs, or something. It all gets very confusing, but that’s not what the vast majority of viewers be watching this for anyway, is it?
The gore is very cleverly done in both the visuals and the audio, and the first time you see Montag’s show, you’ll be disgusted. The second time you see Montag’s show, you’ll be bothered. The third time, nonplussed. The fourth, bored. The fifth and beyond (because I lost track of how many times we had to sit through that flippin’ show) you’ll be wondering where the phrase ‘a magician never repeats his tricks’ got lost.
Bigelow’s ‘obsession’ is just an excuse to butcher naked women – because they have to strip off, of course – in new and increasingly vile ways, contributing absolute zero to the progression of the story and bringing it all terribly close to the wretched ‘torture porn’ genre. Seeing women being mutilated, preferably in some way that has a hint of sexual perversion, seems to be not only totally acceptable these days, but practically compulsory. And you know what? It’s now worse than offensive – it’s BORING. Breasts! Blood! Screaming! Get over it!
I don’t know, maybe it’s me getting softer in my old age (I’m 27). It’s a well-stylised movie with decent performances and a creepy soundtrack, but it’s just not right. It’s a remake. It’s got unnecessary scenes of people being mutilated whilst having sex. It relies on dream sequences to defend those unnecessary scenes of people being mutilated whilst having sex. It thinks that some bloke eating maggots is shocking/entertaining enough to be shown several times. It isn’t.
Worse, it transpires that the actors who play the victims are from a troupe of ‘punk porn stars’ (sic) called The Suicide Girls. It’s all so…depraved, in the true meaning of the word, and another advert for the ‘sick is art’ brigade. I was horrified to see that the website has one of the most explicit and repulsive moments playing as part of its front page – I’m not Mary Whitehouse, but the day that any kid can log on to a freely-available film site and accidentally watch that, followed by a quick trip to a porn site masquerading as something pink and fluffy, is the day we’re all heading down a very slippery slope. Oh look, we appear to already be there.
Initially you’ll have your curiosity piqued by the magic show. But then it’ll dawn on you that it’s not real, you’re not seeing a real magic trick but a film, and so the excitement of the illusion will fade and you’ll want them to get on with the story. That never fully happens, of course, and the involvement of drugs gives an excuse to make it all go ‘weird’ so that you’ll hopefully forgive anything. There are plot twists, but you’ll have seen them coming so far in advance that you’ll wonder if you’ve seen the film before.
And perhaps you have. This was originally a Herschell Gordon Lewis film made in 1968, advertising “Scenes so far beyond anything you’ve ever seen that no description is possible, in devastating colour!”. Trouble is, Kip Pardue’s character looks like he got stuck there – he’s the only person in the whole town who seems to have accidentally wandered in from Farewell My Lovely. His clothes are so out of place, and his role as ‘reporter’ so clichéd, that he might as well be at a fancy-dress party as Clark Kent. Goodness knows why they did it, but if it was supposed to ‘mark him out’ as some kind of ‘special’ person it was a horrible, incongruous failure.
There are no extras on the disc. Maybe they ran out of money. Maybe we’d suffered enough. I can’t give this one star because it looks quite nice and has a bizarre soundtrack. Damn it.