Monday, 1 September 2014

Dexterity in Death! 5 Spellbinding Horror Films with Maniacal Magicians

**Please note that there may be spoilers throughout the blog**

  I've always dug magic.  I remember sitting next to the stage at a Sigfried & Roy performance, so close that if a raised my arm I would have been able to touch a passing tiger.  Looking back on what happened a year later, maybe this wasn't the best seat in the house.  However, Watching a good magician is like watching a good film, there's a set up or the pledge, then an issue arises or the turn and then the resolution or the prestige, which should gives the viewer a new insight or a feeling of satisfaction.  This is an age old formula that is used for most scripts, so with that in mind, what if you combined the two? So, I searched for horror movies that had evil magicians thwarting revenge on people, society and the universe and this is what I found.

Here are 5 Spellbinding Horror Films with Maniacal Magicians

5. Two on a Guillotine (1965) - Famed magician Duke Duquesnes' daughter Cassie, returns home after his death.  Since her mother "abandoned" the Duke, she was sent away to live with an aunt in another state because the Duke was having mental issues.
  After the funeral and the reading of the will, Cassie discovers that she has inherited everything but she most live in the haunted magic mansion for a week to redeem her prize or the house, the money and all the fabulous prizes go to her fathers' two business associates, Dolly Bast and 'Buzzy' Sheridan.
  When she arrives at the house, she is greeted there by Val Henderson, who claims to be a architect or something but he is secretly, an ace reporter trying to get the scoop on the old Duquesnes place.  Anyway, they go inside and there are a number of spooky and comical traps that the two fall for and Val ends up staying the week to look after Cassie.  Can these two survive the traps that crazy Duke has set or is there more hidden in that house than a skeleton on strings?
  This really wasn't what I expected.  This story plays out more like a rom com than it does a horror film up until the end.  Director William Conrad (My Blood Runs Cold, Brainstorm) seems to focus more on the Cassie, played by Connie Stevens (Back To The Beach, Dragstrip Riot) and Val, played Dean Jones (The Love Bug, That Darn Cat!) falling in love than they do on the haunted house or the stipulations of will.  Anytime things get "scary", it ends up just being some sort of cheap gag, until **Spoiler** the Duke, played by Cesar Romero (The Thin Man, Batman (1966)) returns, then it actually gets scary but that isn't until the end of the film. *EndSpoiler**  This film is alright if you're looking for something light but it isn't death defying in the least.

4. Wizard of Gore (2007) - Rich hipster Ed Bigelow puts out a small paper in L.A and is always looking for a story.  One evening at a street party, he and his girlfriend, Maggie catch wind of an incredible underground magic show.  They go to the show at an abandoned amphitheater and are astounding by Montag the Magnificent and his style of gruesome magic tricks.  Ed becomes obsessed with the show and returns to see it night after night.  However, after the first couple nights, the girls who have been "pulled from the audience" to "help with the illusions" are popping up dead in the morning papers with horrible and familiar sounding deaths.  Can Ed discover the mystery of Montag and stop his monstrous magic show or will he get pulled on stage and be made a spectacle himself?
  This was okay but you can tell that the budget was tight on this one.  There is some talented people on this like, Crispin Glover (Reuben & Ed, Back to The Future) who plays Montag, Bijou Phillips (Bully, Hostel 2) and Kip Pardue (Stag Night, Hostel Part III) who plays Ed but I think at times they are wasted on green screen looking sets and a hipster storyline that is kind of hit or miss.  Also, the magic gore scenes are done with CGI and done with a "Magic Mirror" in front, which is kind of lame.  I do like the idea of adjusting the story into a Horror/noir but there aren't really any likeable characters in this.  This film definitely has some gruesome effects that are worth checking out but I prefer my magic less digital.

3. Magic (1978) - After overcoming a rough first time in front of an audience and then having his mentor die, Corky Withers, an aspiring magician and ventriloquist, hits the big time with their manager, Ben Greene.  Unfortunately before the studio signs Corky, they would like him to have a full physical for insurance purposes.  This freaks Corky out and he vamooses to his hometown to hide from the physical, all the money and an amazing career.  Good work Corky, good work.
  While in hiding in his old hometown, he runs into Peggy Ann-Snow, the girl he had a crush on in high school.  He stays at her smotel and impresses her with his lewd ventriloquist act.  What a classy gal!  The sad thing is that Peggy is married and what's makes things worse is that Fats, Corky's dummy starts making threats on Peggy's life if he stays with her.  Can Corky get the girl, the dream job and the fame or will Fats, the dummy, kill, literally, all his chances of being happy?
  This was a really weird film and I can see why you don't hear about it that much.  This is a surprisingly disjointed film by famed actor/director Richard Attenborough (Ghandi, Cry Freedom)RIP.  The focus, like in "Two for A Guillotine" seems to be on the relationship between, Corky, played by Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, The Elephant Man) and Ann-Margaret (Viva Las Vegas. Tommy) and the horror element seems to fall wayside.  However, the scenes with Fats, the dummy and Hopkins are very interesting, well played out and can be very creepy. However,  I wished that they could have focused more on this element.  There isn't a huge death count, but it's an strange film and very scary if dummies creep you out.

2. The Mad Magician - Don Gallico builds amazing illusions and magic tricks for other magicians and he finally has taken the chance to perform the tricks himself.  Sadly on the premiere of his show, his evil business partner, Ross Ormond puts the kibosh on the show with the help of one of their clients, The Great Rinaldi.  They claim that the magic tricks do not belong to Gallico and the show must come to an end.
  The next day at work is awwwwkward to say the least and Gallico and Ormond argue about the night before.  Ormond reminds Gallico that not only does he work for him, that he stole his wife and that Gallico will never perform any of his own illusions as long as he lives.  Well thems the magic words, Gallico enraged kills Ormond.  He then disguises himself as Ormond and with the help of a college sports bonfire celebration burns the body.
  Gallico still disguised as Ormond rents a room from Alice Prentiss, a mystery writer and sets off on his plan to get revenge on his wife, Rinaldi and anyone else who tries and to stop his career in magic and murder!  Will the police be able to stop this savage sorcerer or will send his victims into periling acts of prestidigitation!
  Vincent Price (Madhouse, The Fly) as Galico is really terrific in this.  The illusions that they perform may be dated at times but are a lot of fun to watch.  Director John Brahm (Hot Rods From Hell, The Lodger) really marries the elements of Horror and Magic in this film.  Galico uses some of the most ingenious tricks, disguises and illusions to dismay, deter and destroy his rivals.  This film is really great if you enjoy classic horror films, it has sharp dialogue, fiendish plots and Eva Gabor (Gigi, The Rescuers), what more could you want?!

1. Lord of Illusions (1995) - In 1982, a cult leader and sorcerer named Nix, who also calls himself "The Puritan" and his cult, kidnap a young girl to sacrifice in a remote abandon house in the Mojave desert.  Luckily, Swann, a former member of the cult and Nix's star pupil, thinks that Nix has gone to far this time and with his crack team of other former cultist, they go into rescue the little girl.  Luckily, they arrive in time and defeat Nix but before they do, Nix uses his power to give Swann the vision of "Flesh with a God's Eye" that makes him see people as monstrous figures.  Nix is then shot by the little girl.  So like with any body, they chain the body up in metal and toss him in a hole in the desert, never to be seen again.  The end?
  Thirteen years later, private detective and supernatural magnet, Harry D'amour takes on a quiet insurance fraud case and flies down to L.A..  While tracking his perp, D'amour stumbles onto a what looks like ritual killing in a psychic parlour.  It seems has though former cult member and Nix's new second banana, Butterfield and his neo-nazi henchman have come looking to find where Nix's body is buried.  After battling with D'amour and the henchmen tossed out a second story window, Butterfield escapes.  After the cops arrive, the henchman has disappeared but D'amore is intrigued by this case and finding "The Puritan" which was one of the dying man's last words.
  Swann, however, is now a big time magician and lives with this wife Doreatha, who lets him know about the murder of their friend, Quaid, the dead man in the psychic parlour and suggests they hire D'amour to find the culprits.  They invite D'amour to one of Swann's performances and while watching the performance, Swann's new illusion goes wrong and is killed!  Can D'amour find the killers and stop Butterflied from resurrecting Nix or has the true lord of illusion have one more trick up his sleeve?
  This film was a lot better than I remember it.  This was the directors cut which has been released since the original theatrical and VHS offering.  Writer/Director/Master of Horror Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed) directs a good horror/noir tale from one his Books of Blood series.  This focuses a little more on "real" magic and how it hides in the magic that us unsupernatural people know.  Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap, Enterprise) is actually pretty good as hard boiled detective, Harry D'amour and I had totally forgot that this was one of Famke Janssen's (GoldenEye, Taken 2) first major film roles as Swann's wife and mystery girl, Doreatha.   The computer special effects on this are bit dated but I like what Barker was trying to do. You have to remember that CGI was new and very cutting edge at this time but there are some extraordinary practical effect and gore in this as well to balance it out.  This is a definite must to revisit if you haven't seen it for a while, the directors cut is tighter, less confusing from what I remember and still has some very enjoyable horror magic in it.

So, if you're looking for some feats of heart pounding, petrifying prestidigitation, then look no further, these titles can pull fear out of a hat.  However, you may not want to look behind the curtain because that is where the true terror lies.

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