The Theatre Bizarre
April 24, 2012 (U.S. DVD)
Zach Chassler (“Theatre Guignol”); Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris, and Emiliano Ranzani (“The Mother of Toads”); Buddy Giovinazzo (“I Love You”); John Esposito (“Wet Dreams”); Douglas Buck (“The Accident”), Karim Hussain (“Vision Stains”)
Jeremy Kasten (“Theatre Guignol”), Richard Stanley (“The Mother of Toads”), Buddy Giovinazzo (“I Love You”), Tom Savini (“Wet Dreams”), Douglas Buck (“The Accident”), Karim Hussain (“Vision Stains”), and David Gregory (“Sweets”)
Udo Kier as Peg Poett (“Theatre Guignol”)
Virginia Newcomb as Enola Penny (“Theatre Guignol”)
Catriona MacColl as Mere Antoinette (“The Mother of Toads”)
Debbie Rochon as Carla (“Wet Dreams”)
Lindsay Goranson as Estelle (“Sweets”)
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
The Theatre Bizarre Opens an Abandoned Theatre for One Night Only and brings together seven cult directors for a night of bizarre tales. The end result is a film that blends the feel of the anthologies of the 70s and 80s with subject matter a bit more extreme.
“Theatre Guignol” directed by Jeremy Kasten (The Wizard of Gore (2007)): The best way to tackle an anthology like The Theatre Bizarre is to look at each part in order and examine how they hold up on their own and meld together as a cohesive whole. In its wraparound, a woman (Virginia Newcomb) finds herself going into a previously abandoned theatre where she discovers a strange performance led by an almost robotic ringmaster (Udo Kier) who tells the stories of the various other pieces on stage with him in Grand Guignol style. The piece works great as a framing device as it’s got such a bizarre visual style that it blends perfectly with the strange concepts, themes, and ideas in the segments themselves. Its only problems are that Udo Kier’s voice is distorted early on making it difficult to understand some of his speeches and that the overall ending of the wraparound is a bit predictable.
“The Mother of Toads” directed by Richard Stanley (Hardware): The Theatre Bizarreanthology proper kicks off with this sort-of Lovecraftian tale set in France in which a man with an interest in the occult (Shane Woodward) and his girlfriend (Victoria Maurette) cross paths with a witch (Italian horror icon Catriona MacColl) with dark desires who claims to own an original copy of the Necronomicon. Unfortunately, it’s also the weakest short of the film. While not terrible, the few deaths in it are poorly executed and its ending and overall plot feel rushed. Catriona MacColl’s great, creepy performance is the thing that saves this one from being a total loss. It’s also appreciated that, like the rest of the film, most, if not all, of the effects were practical. Being able to feel the slime and goo the actors are working with in some scenes definitely helps to make the final product more real.
“I Love You” directed by Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock): Next is a look at the breakdown of the relationship between a paranoid, over-protective man (André Hennicke) and the woman who can no longer take his neuroses and control (Suzan Anbeh). This is a brilliant, at times darkly comic, story that works on the strengths of its two leads and their chemistry with each other. It’s also paced and written well and builds to a fantastic, dark conclusion. This is easily one of the best of The Theatre Bizarre anthology and feels even better due to being placed after the weaker segment that came before it.
“Wet Dreams” directed by Tom Savini (Night of the Living Dead (1990)): Following that is the story of a man (James Gill) relating to his psychiatrist (Savini himself) recurring nightmares he’s been having that either involve extreme personal genital trauma or his wife (Debbie Rochon) violently torturing him. Blending the vibe of an EC Comics or Tales from the Crypt story with sex, extreme violence, and gore (it is Savini, after all), this segment is outstanding and a great showcase for Savini’s directing skills, awesome practical effects, and the fantastic acting ability of Debbie Rochon. Special mention should also be made of the segment’s writer, John Esposito (also writer of Masters of Horror: Right to Die and “The Walking Dead”) who manages to produce a story that weaves in and out of multiple dreams yet still manages to make sense and never confuses.
“The Accident” directed by Douglas Buck (Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America, Sisters(2006)): Up next, feeling almost like The Theatre Bizarre palate cleanser after Savini’s more blood-soaked entry, is the story of a mother (Lena Kleine) and daughter (Mélodié Simard) discussing the nature of death and dying after coming upon a motorcycle accident earlier in the day. This is another great piece that is brilliantly written, feeling like a real conversation a mother would have with her daughter if they came upon the sight these two do. However, this is also a weaker part of the anthology as a whole because it’s the only piece in the film that is decidedly different in tone as the director intentionally opted for a character-driven melodrama (which, admittedly, is a great strength of his). As such, as well-acted and written as it is, it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the bloodier, sexier, and more extreme shorts in the rest of the movie.
“Vision Stains” directed by Karim Hussain (cinematographer of Hobo with a Shotgun, director of The Beautiful Beast): From probably the least well-known of the 7 admittedly cult directors in The Theatre Bizarre comes the tale of a woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) obsessed with experiencing and transcribing the last thoughts and sights of the dying by way of injecting fluid from their eyes into her own. Second only to the final film in the anthology in the “strangeness” department, this is a weird, dark, well-written piece featuring easily the most artistic and cerebral plot of the movie. It works well primarily through Horn’s outstanding and intense performance as the lead and is instantly memorable for loading up on a horror staple not often seen outside of Italian horror: eye trauma. In that regard, it should also be commended for creating its effects practically and in a way that will make audiences cringe. Its only flaw is that its artistic tone feels a little off with the rest of the movie, though not to the extent seen with “The Accident”.
“Sweets” directed by David Gregory (Plague Town): By far the most bizarre concept in The Theatre Bizzrre, the final segment showcases the strange, tenuous relationship between Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) and Greg (Guilford Adams), a couple obsessed with gorging themselves on sweets. Also featuring a great appearance by horror actress Lynn Lowry, this is easily the messiest of the segments and features some of the most extreme visuals as massive amounts of gooey, sloppy overeating are central to its plot and twisted ending. It also, unfortunately, has the most confusing storyline as it isn’t readily clear why Estelle and Greg are on the rocks and doesn’t tie its story up as well as any of the other segments do. After thinking about it for a few hours, I THINK I understand it, but I can’t be sure and that’s something I don’t need to say about any other segment of the movie.
Overall, The Theatre Bizarre is an anthology that takes the style of films like Creepshow and amps up the weirdness to great effect. While it is a bit lengthy at almost two hours and starts with its weakest story, it rebounds with a series of generally well-done tales. A few of The Theatre Bizarre’s stories feel out of place or mildly confusing when examined within the overall movie, but even those pieces are still memorable and effective shorts of good quality that help make the final anthology an enjoyable experience.