Our review from 2011 of this anthology horror that is now available to watch on Shudder…..
Anthology horror has been more miss than hit these days in the film world. Ever Since the 1941 classic Dead Of Night told viewers a few short tales of terror, many have followed in their own style and vision but the genre has never been what you could say box office gold with many of the films bypassing the big screen and heading for the straight to DVD path.
The recent Trick R Treat is a prime example, visually strong and with a strong cast that included Anna Paquin and Brian Cox, the film was largely ignored despite it having a great central character and four wonderful tales.
While 1972’s Tales Of The Crypt is held with much affection, more so thanks to a successful TV show, it is the 80’s flick Creepshow that many hold up as the one to beat. By some twist of fate I actually sat down and watched that George A.Romero film only a few days ago and while my childhood memories will never dim the love I have of that flick even I must admit that its dated horribly and modern fans who have never seen it will probably laugh at the whole show.
Its safe to say then that a genre which could be full of rich woven stories is severely lacking in quality and new material but that may be all set to change thanks to the arrival of The Theatre Bizarre, an odd surreal horror flick that is destined to find love for many out there.
We start with a girl who looks from the off that she is losing her mind. She stands in her small apartment and frantically paces the floor while scribbling demented images on the four walls that surround her. Her name is Penny (Virginia Newcomb) the lead character who brings all the tales of terror to us thanks to the moment she looks out of the widow and sees a rundown theatre across the road which seems to be calling out to her. Penny who never says a word throughout the running time goes across to this eerie looking place and enters and soon realises that its not exactly abandoned. Penny sits down on the empty seat of the vast area and stares at the stage where a freaky come to life Dummy (a clearly having fun Udo Kier) with the most bluest of eyes starts talking to her. He is basically the Crypt keeper for the whole show, the guy who will tell the tales to the wide eyed Penny who sits back in awe and with a horrifying look!
The first tale is titled “The Mother Of Toads” which as soon as you see the title you realise that this is going to be a homage for all things Argento. Fans of Giallo will love every minute of this tale even more so when they see Catriona MacColl from the classic THE BEYOND appear in the title role. Richard Stanley directs this tale of a mismatched couple, Martin (Shane Woodward) and Karina (Victoria Maurette) who should be on a holiday of a lifetime but their conflicting interests brings a certain amount of tension in the air. He wants to look at odd shaped rocks and all things occult and she just wants to go for a swim and its only when the couple spilt up to do do their own thing that the terror arrives in the shape of MacColl who seduces the young man and he awakes to a terrible fright.
With a wonderful score that contains “whispers in the wind”, this tale flips the fable of “kiss a frog to get you prince” and while looking back it probably was the weakest tale of the whole show, it does set the mood up lovely because you can feel the dread ooze from each frame and like I said, Argento fans will lap it up with wonderful delight.
The second tale “I Love You!” is a brilliant story that thrilled my horror bones and is so different to the previous story. Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo this tale is a much quieter affair and it works wonderfully after the OTT tone of Stanley’s effort. A man (Andre Hennicke) wakes up on the bathroom floor with his shirt bloodied and with blood on the floor and the first impression I had was that this guy has just tried to kill himself. Obviously I was way wrong because it is soon revealed that its from a deep cut on his hand in which he can not recall how it happened.
The film then skips a beat and we get the jist of the story of a man whose marriage is on the rocks-badly. His wife Mo (Suzan Anbeh) is clearly no longer in love with him and the film wastes no time in telling us that she is being unfaithful and when they decide to talk about what is wrong, the film comes to life. There is a great unbalance to the whole show that I loved totally. Very heavy on the dialogue, the script sparkles with stunning wit from lines like “Your penis in my vagina never liked each other” from the fact she tells her husband that she never even washed after she had sex with another man because she hoped “he would smell the sex on her!” Mo is a complete and utter bitch but then her husband comes across as a bit of a creep and the fact that he just may love her a bit too much.
Even the sex scene, a goodbye fuck if you like is devilishly dark and twisted, she wants to be fucked hard and he wants to do it gentle and you can see how mismatched these two are. But just when you question where this is going, the witty tone turns horrific with a final last moment that explains why this film is called “I Love You!”, I have to say I was completely blown away by this little short film.
Still reeling from it we moved on to Tom Savini’s WET DREAMS, another inspired Giallo horror which like The Mother of Toads will appeal to fans who love this style. Here we see a man Donnie (James Gill) have the worst sexual dreams you can think of and to say anymore will clearly spoil it for you but it does exactly what it says on the tin. Its very Lovecraft and it does have genital mutilation and while it lacks a great plot, you can clearly see that Savini is having a blast behind the camera and it brings a not dull but great vibe to it all.
Which then brings us to “The Accident!” and wow! If there is any reason to watch this film then its for this little beauty. It has no gore, no terror, not even a bogyman but its a touching story that seems out of place in a horror film full or limbs flying around and penises being hacked off. The short film is beautifully shot and I can not praise this enough, The story is of a little girl (Melodie Simmard) who waves to a passing motorcyclist (Bruno Decary) and moments later sees the guy dead on the road after hitting a deer. Trying to understand life and death, the girl asks her mother (Lena Kleine) questions in which her mother replies the best she can and that is it for the whole thing. Sounds Boring? Well its not, its a wonderful tale that touched my heart and Douglas Buck who wrote and directed this film is clearly one to look out for.
The film gets back on track with its last two films. Karim Hussain’s “Vision Stains” starts of with a black background and just goes darker. Here we see a drug taker getting high before being jumped on by writer (KaniehtiioHorn) who stabs her and then puts a needle in her eye, drains some body fluid and then injects it into her own eye. Reasons being is that she has discovered that she can get the memories from those who are dying. Its that “you see your life before you die” moment and the writer goes from victim to victim becoming in some sense a drug taker herself before taking things too far. Its a great concept that probably need more running time to get its full potential.
The final story titled “Sweets” is probably the most surreal and bizarre of them all and also the ugliest. For some reason I could not get the film “Society” out of my mind during this part even though they are so unlike in terms of storytelling. A bit like “I Love You!” a married couple Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) and Greg (Guilford Adams),relationship is on the rocks even they do share a weird fetish for all things sweet. Again a bit dialogue heavy but with bizarre food imagery the film takes a dark turn when Estelle decides to host a party. What happens well I won’t spoil it for you but lets just say, do not be eating anything when this story appears on screen.
Overall The Theatre Bizarre is a wonderful oddity, surreal and at times touching. The two short films “I Love You” and especially “The Accident!” are one of the best I have ever seen in any anthology horror, one brutal and honest with marriage while the other is so simple and touching that its just a stunning delight. The others will also rock your boat especially if you love the old style Italian horror and while like all films of this genre there are stories weaker than others, for an overall package its a watchable delight and makes The Theatre Bizarre one of the finest and thee bizarre anthology horror films in recent years…..