Judge Daryl Loomis doesn't get why his dance recitals aren't better attended.
Mommy, why do we die?
I like the idea of horror anthologies, with different writers and directors creating their own unique interpretation of a theme. Often, there is a wide range of quality among the segments, but it can introduce audiences to impressive young talents or, at the very least, deliver brief jolts of shock before moving on to the next tale. In The Theatre Bizarre, with the presence of experienced filmmakers, we get an interesting mix of stories in the tradition of Grand Guignol.
Facts of the Case
A young woman wanders into an abandoned theater to find a marionette (Udo Kier, Suspiria) presenting a burlesque of horrors. As she watches, alone in the audience, we are drawn in to six tales of the macabre.
Mother of Toads (dir. Richard Stanley, Hardware): After the purchase of a pair of pentagram-shaped earrings from a crazy woman's shop, a vacationing couple gets separated, only to experience the town's amphibious wrath.
I Love You (dir. Buddy Giovinazzo, Combat Shock): The crumbling of his marriage spells madness for Axel (Andre Hennicke, A Dangerous Method), who begs his wife (Suzan Anbeh, French Kiss) for one last moment together. The only question is how long that moment will last.
Wet Dreams (dir. Tom Savini, 1990's Night of the Living Dead): An abusive husband cheats on his wife during the day and dreams about it at night. Soon, however, his dreams take a violent, Freudian turn and start bleeding over into his real life.
The Accident (dir. Douglas Buck, Sisters): A woman and her young daughter are driving down a country road when they witness a biker careen into a deer, killing him and fatally wounding the animal. The girl witnesses mortality for the first time and it is a scary, confusing thing.
Vision Stains (dir. Karim Hussein, The Beautiful Beast): A woman wanders the streets, searching for homeless women who want to die. After killing them, she extracts their memories and injects them into her eye so she can see what they saw and record it.
Sweets (dir. David Gregory, Plague Town): A couple, whose perverse relationship is based on a sugar fetish, breaks up, leaving the man to deal with his loneliness and the woman to indulge her most bizarre food fantasies.
I'm not sure how the framing story, directed by Jeremy Kasten (The Wizard of Gore), is particularly relevant to the other shorts in The Theatre Bizarre, but as a film unto itself, it's strange and kind of funny. It's always good to see Udo Kier and seeing him playing a puppet is even better. As an intro to each segment, though, it doesn't really work that well.
A few of the films in the anthology are excellent. I Love You is a really strong two person acting piece that starts uncomfortable and ends in tragedy that is hard to watch, but very well done. The concept for Vision Stains is truly bizarre, which counts for a lot. It wouldn't hold up in feature-length form, but that's the beauty of short horror. It's a dirty, tragic piece with a lot of gross eye stuff and quite decent effects. This was probably my favorite on the disc, though I Love You is really close.
The one I was really looking forward to, Richard Stanley's The Mother of Toads, was the only genuine disappointment. Hardware and Dust Devil are favorites of mine, but his body of work is unfortunately slim. The segment is the most traditional horror piece of the bunch, but I guess Stanley didn't learn the valuable lesson taught in Frogs, frogs are not scary, ever. It's moody at times and I can see the skills that I love about the director, but it just doesn't work.
The rest, people will have more mixed reactions about. It's great to see Tom Savini (the true Wizard of Gore) directing, but Wet Dreams is plain silly. It also looks like it comes from 1992, which is kind of strange and, I'm sure, intentional. It's super violent and totally silly, so I can see it appealing to the most viewers. The Accident isn't really a horror film at all, unless you look at it from a small child's perspective. Whether or not it's scary, it's very sad and realistic. Some will object to its total lack of horror content, however. I really liked Sweets, with its constant eating scenes, but I think a lot of people will find it more disgusting to watch than a lot of the gore. I suppose that I do, too, which is probably why I liked it so much.
From Image Entertainment and Severin, the DVD for The Theatre Bizarre is decent enough, but nothing too special. The anamorphic image is a little soft throughout, but it's mostly clear and there aren't any real problems with the transfer. The sound is a reasonably robust stereo mix, but the dialog is sometimes murky, especially in the framing sequences. There's no real background noise to speak of, but the voices should have been brought closer to the front of the mix. For extras, we have an audio commentary on each segment (except for The Accident) where we hear from the individual directors on their contribution. Because the voices change so often, it's rarely boring and a solid commentary. Interviews with the directors and behind-the-scenes footage give us a little better handle on their intentions for the project and a trailer closes out the disc.
The Theatre Bizarre is an interesting, if not altogether successful horror anthology. Like anything of the type, the quality of the segments is mixed; some are really interesting, but a few are bound to disappoint. There's enough variance in the segments to keep things interesting, even if they don't all hit their marks. Mostly, I'm just glad to see work from a few of these directors, and their fans especially will want to check it out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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