Friday, February 3, 2012
"The Theatre Bizarre" is like the old "Creepshow" or "Tales From the Crypt" movies or the recent "Three Extremes." It's an anthology film with multiple films by multiple directors. In the case of "The Theatre Bizarre" there's not much of a thematic or stylistic thread tying the films together. Perhaps a perverse sense of love runs through them but it's not overt. Instead we get something of a mix tape with Udo Kier's odd "puppet" master of ceremonies serving as the cinematic DJ. The key thing about a mix tape is not so much having songs of a similar style and theme but rather about delivering a nice mix that takes you through different moods and emotions so that you feel satisfied by the end. "The Theatre Bizarre" does just that with a delicious and wicked sense of fun.
"The Theatre Bizarre" has its roots in Montreal's Fantasia film festival with its 6 films and framing segments coming from a diverse array of filmmakers from multiple countries but all outside the mainstream Hollywood system. Such a package may be hard to sell to audiences but the shorter form of storytelling it allows for provides filmmakers with an opportunity to experiment without having to raise a lot of money.
As with any anthology, there are highs and lows. Unfortunately, "The Theatre Bizarre" starts with its weakest link so don't be discouraged if Richard Stanley's "The Mother of Toads" doesn't bowl you over. Stanley (who made "Dust Devil" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau" remake) references H.P. Lovecraft but never achieves anything even remotely close to Lovecraft's brilliance. The acting has a 70s TV woodenness and the film is just plain silly. Although the Mother of Toads has certain charms.
But once you're over this hump things gets much better. There's an effective tale of obsessive love in Buddy Giovinazzo's segment "I Love You," which ends with a lovely twist. But perhaps the real horror in this segment is the couple, neither of whom proves very appealing and their relationship is a total nightmare. A different kind of perverse obsession is on display in David Gregory "Sweets." Gregory scores points with his eye-popping visual and production design that provides the most vivid images of the anthology.
Darker in tone and themes is Karim Hussain's "Vision Stains" in which a young woman who cannot dream preys on homeless women in order to extract life memories from their eye balls as they die. She then injects the eye juice into her own eye in order to see their lives flash before her eyes. Hussain served as cinematographer on the badass grindhouse homage "Hobo With a Shotgun" and he invests "Visual Stains" with a bleak beauty and creepiness. Sorry but needles into eyeballs make me squirm. [Elicits gleeful EW!] The film's shortcoming is a dry voiceover and lame ending.
My two favorite segments are worlds apart in all respects: Douglas Buck's "The Accident" and Tom Savini's "Wet Dreams." The former is all subtlety and restraint and the latter is all excess and flamboyance. Buck's film stands out by its contrast to all the others. It is a realistic and even tender story about a mother trying to talk to her young daughter about death after witnessing a fatal motorcycle accident. Non-linear in structure, it cuts between the accident and the nighttime discussion afterwards. Shot with confidence in a slow, deliberate manner, "The Accident" builds a delicate sense of genuine emotion but also delivers some of the most disturbing imagery in a dying deer. It also finds a near transcendent beauty in its morbid subject matter. It offers a breather between all the flash and gore of the other films. For some it may not even qualify as horror but it does deal with horrific things and things that scare us but both within the context of the real world.
In direct opposition to "The Accident" is Tom Savini’s "Wet Dreams," even the title seems crass contrast. The film is much like Savini's acting -- over-the-top and fueled by wild-eyed energy. I mean I was surprised that Savini didn't twirl his famous moustache to punctuate some evil acts. But Savini has such an unpretentious sense of fun and take such giddy delight in the horror genre that he's basically irresistible.
The story is outlandish and involves dreams, Savini as a therapist, and considerable dismemberment with special attention paid to male genitals. It doesn't have much on its mind and seems more interested in letting gore FX master Savini just spill some blood with style. It's more like a Grand Guignol horror joke with a bloody punchline. It's gleefully unconcerned with making sense and its unashamed of its rather lowbrow ambitions. Savini knows how to have gruesome fun.
The framing device, involving Kier as a kind of wooden puppet coming to life with each successive segment, is weak. It's visually fun but doesn't really add anything to the overall film. But I love seeing the great Udo Kier in anything so I would not have advocated the elimination of these scenes.
"The Theatre Bizarre" (unrated and not for kiddies or the squeamish) is a delicious horror buffet with some gore-geous treats and gruesome confections. It should satisfy any horror lover's appetite with its diverse offerings
Companion viewing: "Three Extremes," "Dead of Night," "The Illustrated Man"