• Theater Bizarre, The

    Released by: Image Entertainment
    Released on: April 24, 2012.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Udo Kier, Tom Savini
    Year: 2011
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    The Movie:

    Inspired by the French ‘Grand Guignol’ theater popular in that country from the late 1800’s through to the mid 1900s, The Theater Bizarre is an anthology film made by some of the most interesting talent working outside of the horror mainstream today. A very different sort of horror anthology than most of the established classics of the format (the Amicus films come to mind, as does Creepshow), The Theater Bizarre offers no morals or lessons as so many of the E.C. Comics inspired stories often did but instead goes right for the jugular, more interested in shocking you than in enlightening you.

    When the movie begins a young woman named Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) is ushered into a decrepit old theater where a bizarre man sized puppet (Udo Kier under a lot of makeup) resides as a master of ceremonies. Directed by Jeremy Kasten, we’ll return to this strange place in between each of the other stories that make up the picture. Kier is in fine form here, really getting quite physical with his performance while those involved in the production design owe themselves a pat on the back for creating a truly strange place for the linking segments to play out in.

    The first story is Richard Stanley’s The Mother Of Toads and it follows a young couple, Martin (Shane Woodward) and Karina (Victoria Maurette) as they travel through France. When they meet an old woman (Catriona MacColl) selling earrings with arcane symbols on them, he strikes up a conversation with her about the significance and that talk soon turns to the Necronomicon, which she claims to have a copy of. She invites them to visit her to see the book for themselves and Karina decides she’d rather go to the spa so she drops Martin off. By the time she returns to pick him up, Martin has ingested something strange and is seen in bed with some other woman and it all goes downhill from there.

    Shot by Karim Hussain, Mother Of Toads looks fantastic from start to finish. The location photography is excellent and the performances quite good as well. By the time it gets to the gross out we’ve kind of figured out where it’s all heading but it’s great to see Stanley (the man who gave us Hardware and Dust Devil) back at it, his penchant for pagan imagery and symbolism still in full bloom and his knack for staging strange set pieces still as strong as it ever was. Influenced by equal parts Lovecraft and Fulci (is it a coincidence that MacColl is cast here?), is a nice return to form of sorts for the director and dig that score from Simon Boswell.

    From there, we turn down a completely different path with Buddy Giovinazzo’s I Love You, which begins with a man named Axel (played by Andre Hennicke) making a call to his friend to discuss the strange cut he woke up and found on his hand after a night of drinking. Ever since his wife, Mo (Suzan Anbeh), left to visit her cousin he’s been even more of a wreck than usual. The fact that he is as paranoid as he is and is more or less stalking her doesn’t help matters when she shows up to get a few things. A quickie for old times’ sake leads to a conversation about their relationship at which point she confesses that not only is she seeing someone else, she’s been screwing around on him behind his back for ages now. He’s so possessive of her and so completely unaware of her needs that she knows she can never be happy with him. Actions, however, almost always have consequences.

    Given that Giovinazzo is best known for Combat Shock it’s not surprising that this one takes a very bleak turn and we know very early on this will end poorly. The trip, however, is an interesting one. Very heavy on the dialogue the highlight of the story isn’t the sex or the gore but Anbeh’s confessionary style to her husband about her infidelity, which starts off fairly basic but soon becomes almost a barrage of promiscuity and watching her delivery contrasted with Hennicke’s response is quite fascinating. The payoff is a big one but it’s the performances here that make it as good as it is.

    Tom Savini’s segment, Wet Dreams, follows a man named Donnie (James Gill) who is no longer satisfied with his marriage to wife Carla (Debbie Rochon) and who seeks out the advice of a psychiatrist named Dr. Maurey (Tom Savini) who is seemingly unaware that Donnie is screwing his wife (Jodii Christianson) on the sly. Donnie is plagued by nightmares where horrible things happen to him, but is relieved when Maurey teaches him how to take control and wake up from his dreams when he needs to. Very soon though, Donnie’s actions will catch up with him and his reality will be far more horrible than anything he’s experienced in his nightmares.

    This slick and sick little story features some great gore effects from Toetag Pictures (the team behind the August Underground films) and if it isn’t all too concerned with the reality of plausibility of its big finish, it definitely delivers some pretty serious shock value. Twisted and perverse, Savini keeps this one going at a good pace and also delivers a solid performance himself as the sly doctor. Ms. Rochon is as beautiful as always and gets to do more than just look good here, proving she’s a solid actress in her own right. This one isn’t as deep or metaphorical as some of the others and might just be the most predictable of the lot but it’s very well done.

    Douglas Buck’s The Accident is the shortest and most somber short in the feature. It follows a mother (Lena Kleine) and her daughter young (Melodie Simard) as they witness a motorcycle accident in which a biker is killed alongside a large deer. The little girl understandably has questions for her mother about what she has just seen, and the mother has very few legitimate explanations for her.

    This one is somber and even more than a little bit sad. It does, like the other shorts, have a fair bit of carnage on display but it’s more about how we do or do not cope with death, the fragility of life and the loss of childhood innocence. Kleine and Simard are great in their roles and completely believable as mother and child – which is important as there’s no way that this would have worked had they been any less than perfect together. Maybe not what you’d expect from the man who made Cutting Moments but this is probably the most powerful and moving piece in the entire feature.

    Karim Hussain’s entry is called Vision Stains and it wins for being the nastiest of the bunch. The story involves the efforts of an unnamed writer (Kaniehtiio Horn) who makes it her mission to write down the life experiences of the unwanted women spurned by society – prostitutes, vagrants, junkies and the like. How she gets this information is by injecting a needle into that persons eye just as they are dying, and then injecting that same needle into her own eye and depressing the plunger, effectively shooting the contents of the dying woman’s eye into her own. She then sees their lives flash before her eyes, at which point she manically scribbles everything down into books. She soon finds out that some things are better left untouched.

    C.J. Goldman’s effects in this short are fantastic and completely realistic, so much so that even the most ardent of horror fans might have a hard time not flinching a bit during the needle to eyeball sequences. This is more than just ocular trauma, however, the story is interesting and benefits from an interesting premise. There’s maybe a little bit of Cronenberg seeping in here, and that’s never a bad thing but if nothing else this one will make you squirm, and the ending wraps things up perfectly. Simon Boswell scores this one as well.

    Last but not least is David Gregory’s Sweets follows kinky couple named Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) and Greg (Guilford Adams) who together enjoy a strange sort of candy fetish. Their relationship has seen better days, however, and things just aren’t what they used to be. To spice things up, Estelle decides that they should attend a party hosted by Mikela Da Vinci (Lynn Lowry) – and we’ll leave it at that, but let it suffice to say that it gets rather icky (like the worst kind of feeling you get after binging on Halloween candy?).

    Gregory, the man behind Plague Town, directs this one with an interesting emphasis on color and on the sickly sweet and stickiness of the activities on display. Boldly performed by Goranson and Adams with a great supporting effort from the always lovely Lynn Lowry, the acting is strong enough to match the visuals and it all moves at a good pace. Definitely a creative and different sort of horror film, it goes in places you probably won’t expect or want it to but it delivers some solid shock value and with some legitimate artistic intent behind it.

    Not every story here is as strong as the next but each one offers something a little different than what you’ll probably expect from it and each one is quite well done on a technical level. Performances vary, though most are quite strong and the same can be said about the scripts themselves. How much mileage you’ll get will obviously depend on your tastes as like any good anthology film, this one is all over the place but all in all The Theater Bizarre is a breathe of twisted, morbid fresh air far removed from mainstream formulaic horror and a film made with an obvious passion for the genre by all involved.


    The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for The Theater Bizarre shows a few digital video anomalies in the form of some aliasing and minor compression but otherwise looks quite good. The colors are very nicely reproduction, the black levels are fine and detail is about as good as you’d expect from a modern standard definition release. The image is clean and strong throughout. The fact that each of the stories is basically its own separate movie means that the image quality will shift a bit from one story to the next but overall it looks good – though a Blu-ray would have been more than welcome (and have brought out a lot more subtle detail).

    The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Mix on the disc is also quite good. There isn’t a huge use of rear channel activity here, most of what we hear tends to come from the front of the mix but it all sounds well balanced and clean, just as you’d expect it to and want it to. No alternate language subtitles or dubbed tracks are provided here.

    Extras include commentary from each of the director’s and a few co-conspirators over their respective storyline save for Douglas Buck, who bows out unfortunately. The Theatre Guignol framing segments feature input from director Jeremy Kasten and star Udo Kier, Mother Of Toads includes director/co-writer Richard Stanley, actress Victoria Maurette, cinematographer Karim Hussain and producer Fabrice Lambot, I Love You sees writer/director Buddy Giovinazzo flying solo, Wet Dreams joins director and actor Tom Savini with producer Michael Ruggiero and writer John Esposito, Vision Stains teams writer/director Karim Hussain with leading lady Kaniehtiio Horn and editor Douglas Buck and last but not least, Sweets lets writer/director David Gregory go it alone. Each one of these tracks is worth listening to, even if you weren’t wowed by the commentators’ specific story. With only 15-20 minutes each to tell their tale, the track turns out to be very concise and informative with lots of great stories about the various actors and actresses that we see, the scripts, the effects, the locations and various ideas and themes that did or did not make it into the finished product.

    Aside from that, there is a collection of ‘Shock Till You Drop’ Interviews which allow Gregory, Giovanizzo and Kasten to talk about their experiences working in the anthology format. Image has also supplied a fairly short highlight reel of behind the scenes clips from the various shorts that make up the feature, and a trailer for the feature. Menus and chapter stops are also provided.

    The Final Word:

    Perfect? No, but damned impressive more often than not and a fairly intense breath of fresh air. Conventional horror fans might not necessarily appreciate where The Theater Bizarre goes as it’s definitely left of center in a lot of regards but each of the stories is done very well in terms of craft and performance and the feature as a whole works really well. Image’s DVD looks and sounds good and offers up some solid extras highlighted by a very good commentary selection.