• Bizarre (Synapse Films) DVD Review

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: June 28th, 2005.
    Director: Anthony Balch
    Cast: Richard Schulman, Janet Spearman, Dorothy Grumbar, Anthony Rowlands, Norma Eden
    Year: 1970
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    Bizarre – Movie Review:

    Bizarre (better known as The Secrets Of Sex, which is what is on the title card used for this presentation) is an Amicus-style anthology film laid out in a similar way to films like The House That Dripped Blood but with the emphasis being much more on sex rather than blood. Narrated by a talking mummy (British radio personality Valentine Dyall provides the voice), through the film we witness the ongoing battle of the sexes through various examples of male/female relations that tinker with horrific themes and ideas but mainly exist to show naked ladies (never a bad thing). The film also marked the feature film debut of director Anthony Balch who would later helm Horror Hospital.

    After an introduction where we see a husband bury a chest that may or may not be hiding his wife’s lover (who in turn may or may not be our faithful narrator) we witness a strange montage of scenes and vignettes where women and men square off against one another, sometimes one on one, other times in group form. This serves to illustrate in no uncertain terms the ongoing battle of the sexes and to set up the short stories to come later in the film. It’s an amusing little segment that suits the tone of the movie quite nicely, while also providing ample opportunity to show some skin.

    After the opening bits, we’re shuffled off to the first location where we see a female photographer and her lovely friend shooting some BDSM scenes in a location made up to look like a dungeon. A man is bound over top of a saw horse with a razor tip, which he’s forced to straddle, while the women head out to get something to eat. When they come back, he’s slipped down a little too far and the family jewels become severed from the crown, so to speak. From here the story moves on to a female scientist named Mary Clare who is married to an older man that spends far too much time worrying about material things and not enough time worrying about his wife. The one thing her husband wants more than anything else in the world is for her to give him a son but she soon finds out that she’s incapable of having a normal, healthy baby. Through the wonders of science, however, she’s able to get revenge on her man by birthing a mutant boy and crushing his hopes of having a normal boy to bounce on his knee. In the third chapter, a young man lays in bed reading only to be disturbed when a cat burglar breaks into his home. He apprehends the thief and removes the mask only to find that the culprit is a beautiful woman who will do anything he wants if he won’t call the police. The two hit the shower and then the bed and much bumping and grinding ensues. Once she’s let him have his way with her she proceeds to rob him again knowing that he won’t be able to call the cops now that he’s done the deed. The fourth short story is a missive involving Secret Agent 28 – Lindsay Leigh, a live action version of a comic strip that ran in Mayfair, which was essentially the British equivalent of Playboy. She gets up to some Bond-esque hijinks with tongue firmly in cheek and wardrobe placed loosely on floor. After that is the story of a strange young man who finds himself in need of some female attention. He calls up an escort service and hires a call girl. She thinks he’s cute and charming in a nerdy sort of way until he tells her that he thinks it would be swell if his pet iguana would be able to watch or even join them in the bedroom. She’s understandably not too impressed with that idea. The final story follows an elderly lady who explains to a man how she locked the souls of her former lovers in some pots where she’s since grown many lovely flowers. Only one man was ever able to get away from her, and by some odd twist of fate, he’d be that same man she’s talking to, returned to give her what she deserves.

    Once the stories are over and we’ve been enlightened as to the secrets of sex, we’re once again back the way we started with the girls and the guys going at it, though this time the battle takes on a more carnal tone as the film comes to a close.

    While the film is, at its core, nothing more than a softcore sexploitation move with a dash of gore and weirdness tossed in to spice it up a bit, Bizarre is considerably cleverer than the average movie of its ilk, and it also has a lot more style. Some of the gags are pretty funny, as some of the comparisons quite interesting, and it’s all done with a careful eye for composition and color. Performances are decent enough and while there aren’t a whole lot of notables in the cast, everyone does a decent job of hamming it up where it’s needed and playing it cool as the script calls for it.

    Bizarre – DVD Review:

    Synapse does their usual top-notch job on the visuals with this release, at least by the standards of the day it was released in and the standard definition format it was released on. The colors in particular look exceptionally good for a film of this age; the reds specifically look nice and bold. Black levels stay pretty strong throughout (just look at the scenes with the mummy in them) and while there is some mild print damage that shows up in the form of specks and the odd scratch here and there, the picture is pretty clean for the most part.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono track is fine for what it is. All the dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly without any issues and the fun little musical numbers peppered throughout the movie sound nice and lively when they play.

    The first and most interesting of the extra features is a full-length audio commentary with the film’s producer, Richard Gordon, moderated by author Tom Weaver. Aside from a few moments of dead air this is a pretty lively and informative track as Gordon waxes nostalgic about his work with the late director, Anthony Balch. He fills us in on how Bizarre came to be titled in so many different ways as well as the various different versions of the film and why they were cut the way they were. Gordon speaks at great lengths about his relationship with Balch from their introduction and how they met and started working together right up to his untimely death, insisting that the memories of his passing are still quite painful to recall. They discuss the influence of older horror films on the final product and Gordon talks about what influences affected him personally. They also discuss a few interesting details about Horror Hospital, which they made shortly after The Secrets Of Sex.

    Towers Open Fire and The Cut Ups are two early short films that Balch made with infamous literary dope fiend, William S. Burroughs – both are included as extra features on this release, presented fullframe and in decent black and white transfers. Burroughs ‘wrote’ them and co-directed them with Balch while they were living near each other during Burroughs’ stay in London during the sixties.

    1963’s Towers Open Fire runs roughly ten minutes and features what is basically the visual equivalent of Burroughs’ writing style – much of his style was random in that he’d cut up chunks of his work and past them together and publish the results and this film seems to be made in quite a similar manner. If you like his writing, you’ll ‘get’ the film but if you’re not a fan the surrealism and meaning of it all will likely and understandably be lost on you. There’s not much in the way of plot, it’s more an assemblage of images as random and loose as his prose.

    The Cut Ups is a longer film running roughly twenty minutes that was filmed in 1966. The film as the title describes – a series of cut ups put to film. It’s repetition of sound and image gets grating after a while but it’s an interesting experience in experimental film that is worth watching at least once for anyone interested in the weirder side of movie making. The problem is that after you’ve seen the same thing playing out for five or ten minutes, the last half of the movie borders on obnoxious. That’s probably the point, though the end results are difficult to decipher and make any sense out of.

    Up next is an eleven-minute video interview with Elliott Stein, the man who played the physical manifestation of the mummy narrator. Stein also wrote part of the film and played a role in ‘The Strange Young Man’ section of the anthology. He’s got some amusing stories about roaming around in the mummy outfit and he gives some interesting information on the ill-fated follow up project as well.

    Rounding out the extra features are some interesting liner notes from Chris Poggiali that detail the release history and interesting title changes that the film went through, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

    Bizarre - The Final Word:

    Bizarre is an aptly titled blend of sex, horror and comedy (mostly sex). It’s a perfectly enjoyable film with nice cinematography, an interesting cast, and a few choice set pieces. Synapse has done the type of work we expect from them on this release with solid A/V quality and some great extra features.