Director: Douglas Buck (Segment “The Accident”)/Buddy Giovinazzio (Segment “I Love You”)/David Gregory (Segment “Sweets”)/Karim Hussain (Segment “Vision Stains”)/Jeremy Kasten (Segment “The Theater Bizarre”)/Tom Savini (Segment “Wet Dreams”)/Richard Stanley (Segment “The Mother Of Toads”)
Notable Cast: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Harvey Friedman, André Hennicke, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini, James Gill, Lena Kleine, Kaniehtiio Horn, Guilford Adams
Review: The horror anthology: a tricky beast to rule due to time constraints and pacing, but then again, most horror plots suck now a day, so maybe stripping down the excess and leaving a 20 minute straight forward short is the way to go? With last year’s Chillerama, we saw how one horrendous entry could tarnish the reputation of a film in its entirety, but The Theatre Bizarre is even trickier to tackle because of just how short some of these stories are. Chillerama at least gave each filmmaker a good 30 minutes per segment, but some of these filmmakers made their portion fly by in what seemed to be a matter of minutes. At 114 minutes and seven stories, that leaves a mere 16 minutes on average per short, as opposed to the average Chillerama story of 30 minutes (of course knock off a few minutes taking the credit reel into consideration). From the start, The Theatre Bizarre‘s filmmakers were pressured to get from point A to point B as swiftly as possible, while still attaining some sense of cinematic progression and holding onto entertainment value. A daunting task for our directors, one that some executed while others struggled. I appreciate the emergence of more mainstream anthology films, a throwback to the marathons of old, but I’ve yet to really be impressed by the recent influx minus 2007’s Trick R’ Treat. The Theatre Bizarre falls helplessly into the “nice try” category of late, suffering from underdeveloped and sometimes confusing story choices. Simple is good, to a degree, but throwing segment after segment at us with no real ties that bind almost feels like plots are being crammed down our throats. A good film doesn’t force material…it just…flows.
An old abandoned theater sits in front of a young woman’s apartment, causing her to obsess over the creepy surrounding aura. Enola (Newcomb) is dying to see inside, and one day gets her wish when the doors suddenly open. She runs in to find an empty theater, and a strange mechanical looking man on stage. Peg Poett (Kier) starts his theater for Enola, taking her though a string of stories, playing towards his one woman audience. But as Enola watches, Peg becomes more and more descriptive and vivid, while Enola only becomes more entranced. Welcome to The Theatre Bizarre.
Oh come now, The Theatre Bizarre wasn’t THAT bad….err…well…
As a whole, The Theatre Bizarre was a rushed mess showing a random assortment of stories with no fluid string of consciousness, except to attempt some kind of gross out extravaganza. Whereas in Chillerama one story spoiled the bunch, The Theatre Bizarre had more throw aways than keepers. To comment on each, let’s run down sequentially:
The Theatre Bizarre:
Enola sits and watches Peg introduce each short, essentially filling the gaps. Creepy and attention grabbing segments that depicted people as marionettes await, with detailed make-up pushing the illusion. Different than just putting cue card after cue card, Kasten brings meaning to filler and an intertwined evolving plot, peaking curiosity in down times. Watch the make-up…
The Mother of Toads:
An anthropology major named Martin (Shane Woodward) on vacation with his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette) get a chance to gander at the actual Necronomicon. Not as excited, Karina spends the day at a lavish spa as Martin meets with a haggard local who tells the interested observer foreign folklore, specifically of a nasty looking creature called Mother Toad who has power over the amphibians. Well, the old woman may not exactly be who she seems, as Martin becomes entranced by more than her stories….
“The Mother of Toads” starts as a perfect example of just a strange scenario erupting out of nowhere, demanding acceptance with no credentials. A cool story about mythology and something unique I’d say, but underwhelming in terms or horror and suspense, mixed with made for TV performances. A perfect example of what was to follow…
I Love You:
A lovestruck man named Axel (Hennicke) deals with his girlfriend Mo’s (Suzan Anbeh) decision to see other people. Full of “please don’t go” clichés and predictable twisted storytelling, I didn’t find much fun in this whiney attempt at romantic horror. I guess it’s supposed to speak to Axel’s love for Mo that even though she confesses to be a tremendously hurtful slut Axel, still desperately tries to hold on, but instead his character comes off as a pathetic coward worth no sympathy. Sadly, I Love You ends with somewhat of a bore considering the story starts out when Axel films himself bloodied and cut open.
Haunted by dreams of genital mutilation and torture, married man Donnie (Gill) is tormented every night in his sleep. He talks to a therapist (Savini) trying to pinpoint a solution, but his paranoia spills over into everyday life. His wife Carla (Rochon) puts up with his womanizing ways, holding on to the man she once married. But when his dreams become more gruesome, Donnie starts having trouble separating vision and reality. The first short that showed signs of creative life, Savini injects his special effects expertise by serving up some scrumptious looking breakfast along with some grotesque vaginal monsters. Yes, I just said that phrase. Story wise still somewhat of a mystery, Wet Dreams at least gives us some decent gore to get a chuckle out of.
Simply enough, a mother (Lena Kleine) explains why people die to her young daughter (Mélodie Simard) after they both witness a motorcycle accident, killing a young man. A story about childhood innocence, The Accident doesn’t really fit with The Theatre Bizarre in my eyes. The blood connects Buck’s story with the rest, I guess, but besides that there isn’t any weird plot twist or sick sexual fantasy like the others. Barebones, realistic, and quick storytelling is what Buck brings, in an all too familiar conversation I’m sure many parents go through. With that said, The Accident may be the best piece of film in The Theatre Bizarre, yet confusing given its fish out of water nature. Considering the whole, The Accident just doesn’t mesh.
A mysterious female (Horn) kills off other vagrant women to hijack their life stories and write them down in journals. She accomplishes this by draining their eye fluid, and injecting the liquid into her own eye. Yet another interesting entry, and yet another failed attempt. Vision Stains doesn’t explain anything…why! Working in some scenarios, Hussain’s segment seems like just a reason to try to churn our stomachs via needle injections, with a vague story and questionable intentions from our character. Sorry, Vision Stains has its legs cut out right from underneath by the abbreviated time frame.
Another story involving a man dealing with breakup, Greg (Adams) is heartbroken when girlfriend Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) sits him down to pop the news. Greg takes it extremely hard, but Estelle doesn’t budge. What Sweets brings back to The Theatre Bizarre is the eye-catching “bizarre” missing since Wet Dreams. The plot point of Estelle feeding Greg is lost on us during the story, but that little light bulb goes off as Gregory’s segment reaches the end. A good light bulb that offers a tantalizing conclusion and the kind of energetic off-the-wall horror the rest of the stories lacked in The Theatre Bizarre. Sweets also satisfies the carnage quota achievable for a short film, so horror fans will be sure to get a squeal or two. But sadly, it’s all too little too late…
So in conclusion, yeah, The Theatre Bizarre flat-out stunk. Nothing good can ever come out of an overabundance of mediocrity mixed with not always focused intentions, jumping from story to story for reasons unbeknownst. Except for Kier the acting is rather “straight to DVD” rate, and the writing leaves much to be desired. Already exceeding my normal review word count and risking utter reader boredom, here are my general words of wisdom: do your self a favor and just chalk up yet another horror loss.
Final Rating: 4 horny toads out of 10
Pretty much nothing but a head on collision here…