• Theatre Bizarre (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
    Cast: Udo Kier, Tom Savini
    Year: 2011
    Purchase From Severin Films

    The Theatre Bizarre – Movie Review:

    Inspired by the French ‘Grand Guignol’ Theatre popular in that country from the late 1800’s through to the mid-1900s, The Theatre 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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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 enjoys 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 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 Theatre 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 Theatre Bizarre – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films presents Theatre Bizarreon Blu-ray taken from new 2k scans of the original film elements framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up 29.8GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Transfer quality is quite nice, the colors in particular look really great here. Black levels are strong as well. These were shot digitally so clearly there’s no print damage to note, but detail and texture are frequently quite impressive. Each short has its own distinct look which is replicated quite well here. No complaints, this looks nice.

    English language audio options are offered in 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo options with removable subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 mix is the better of the two simply because it’s more immersive with the sound effects and especially with the score. Dialogue is easy to understand and to follow, levels are well-balanced and there are no issues to note.

    New to this release is a 2020 filmmakers audio commentary with Jeremy Katsen starting off by interviewing a few of the people that he worked with, covering the wrap segments and the music used in those segments, what it was like working with Udo Kier and more. Anytime the movie goes to the wrap segments, Katsen is there interviewing someone who he worked with no this. Richard Stanley talks about the locations used in his film, what he enjoyed most about working on the film, the joys of doing low budget work like this and loads more. Giovinazzo talks about casting his segment, what it was like shooting in Europe, some of the subtleties of the visuals, reactions to the short when it premiered, and a bunch more. Tom Savini talks about the importance of her leading lady in the opening scene, the use of POV camerawork, what it was like on set, that work that was done to get the sets up to par, some of the tricks used to get the effects right, who did what on set, putting together a rough cut of the movie first and some of the themes that the story deals with. Buck praises the composer he worked with and talks about where the movie was shot and locations that were used, the importance of some of the key images in the film, details in the dialogue, how this was different than shooting Family Portraits, casting the movie and how he wound up in a bit of trouble with the deer seen in the movie. Karim Hussain covers the cinematography, how the audience reacted during a few different screenings, the budget that he had to work with, the distribution that the movie got outside of this anthology, some of the technical details that were used for the shoot and some of the effects as well. Last up, Gregory, joined by some cohorts Lindsay Goranson and Aubrey Davis, covers the length of the project, working on the script, casting the film, the movie's status as a love story of sorts, the intentional look of the film, the cinematography, getting along on set, who did what behind the camera and the intensity of the effects in the finale.

    Backstage: The Making Of The Theatre Bizarre is a nNew feature length documentary featuring interviews with Directors Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley, Producers Daryl J. Tucker, Fabrice Lambot, Michael Ruggiero, Actors Udo Kier, Catriona MacColl, Lynn Lowry, Victoria Maurette, Kaniehtiio Horn and more. It runs an hour and forty-three-minutes and most of the material was shot in 2011. It's got a good mix of interview clips and behind the scenes footage, and as you'd expect, it's very thorough, covering how the project came to be in the first place, how the different directors approached the material, contributions of the cast and crew members involved in each short, getting Richard Stanley out of retirement to do this project, some of the effects set pieces featured in the production, the use of music in the film and plenty of other details about the production. It's very thorough and covers a lot of ground.

    The French TV On-Set Report on Richard Stanley's Return to Genre Filmmaking is an interesting eight-minute look at Stanley’s return to working behind the camera. There’s some interesting interview footage with Stanley here as well as quite a bit of interesting behind the scenes footage as well.

    The Making Of Vision Stains featurette by Filmmaker Pat Tremblay is a nine-minute look behind the scenes of Karim Hussain’s entry in the film. It's loaded with behind the scenes footage shot on the set during production and it features some interviews with a few of the cast and crew members that worked on the movie. The Making Of The Accident, also by Tremblay, takes a similar approach as it takes us behind the scenes of Douglas Buck’s entry in the picture. It also runs nine-minutes and features a lot of interesting footage shot during the making of the movie, though oddly enough it’s in black and white.

    Boswell Scores is a ten-minute interview with soundtrack composer Simon Boswell about his work on Vision Stains and Mother Of Toads. He speaks about how he came on board the project, what it was like working with the different directors, how interesting it was to work with Richard Stanley on his return to fictional storytelling, what he tried to bring to each short, the trust that is needed for a director and composer to work well together, what he wanted the music to do and more.

    Also on hand in the extended cut of Mother Of Toads. This was put together to 'fulfill production and credit requirements of the local governing bodies' and was never finished in high definition. As such, it's presented in standard definition. It runs for just over twenty-minutes in length and it's quite cool to get to see it here even if the presentation leaves a little to be desired (it's got time code on it in spots and looks tape sourced).

    Carried over from the older DVD release are the archival commentaries 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 fifteen to twenty 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, the disc carries over a collection of ‘Shock Till You Drop’ Interviews which allow Gregory, Giovanizzo and Kasten to talk about their experiences working in the anthology format. Menus and chapter stops are also provided.

    Rounding out the extras are two trailers, menus and chapter selection. This release also comes with a slipcover and with the film’s complete soundtrack on CD, which is always a welcome addition to any release.

    The Theatre Bizarre – 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 Theatre 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. Severin has gone all out with this release, presenting the film in nice shape and a ridiculous amount of extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Theatre Bizarre Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      I think I'd like to watch this.
    1. seanmitus's Avatar
      seanmitus -
      Blind buy based on my love of anthologies and the creative talent involved. Expecting a fun experience!