Film: THE THEATRE BIZARRE
Directors: Multiple (check segment reviews below)
Reviewer: Vincent Daemon
The Theatre Bizarre is a film I had been looking forward to for quite some time, and was so very happy to have come across it accidentally on Netflix last week. It is an anthology film, which I've always been quite fond of (perhaps because I am a short fiction writer). Featuring several transgressive filmmakers whom I have been a long time fan of: Richard Stanley, Karim Hussain, Buddy Giovannazzi, and more. These are mostly filmmakers whose previous work has been wholly original, challenging, perhaps even caused some issues-in-the-name-of-art for them. Which is exactly the kind of adrenaline shot of originality this genre needs to squelch out the shit like, well, just about everything else out there (staring directly at you, Texas Chainsaw 3D --- why?).
1)The Theatre Guignol (wraparound)
Director: Jeremy Kassten
This is the wraparound segment, tieing the whole shebang together in it's own weird transgressive way. We see a strange looking and harried young girl, finneagling with her creepy artwork and the voices in her head that call to her from the abandoned theatre across the street. She wanders over, sits in mostly empty darkness, and watches the Peg Poet (Udo Keir) jump to life and begin to narrate out intros to these tales of woe and pain. Now, Udo is SERIOUSLY creepy here, the make-up job on him phenomenal as in between tales, he begins to become more human, and the strange girl begins to become the puppet. Very well done, and I felt a great wrap-around piece (so many of which are sketchy in the world of the antho-film).
2) Mother Of Toads
Director: Richard Stanley
Our first actual segment is directed by none other than Richard Stanley. This brought me a great deal pleasure. I have been a fan of Richard Stanley's since his early 90's films Hardware (one of my favorites) and Dust Devil. Unfortunately he got screwed by Hollywood halfway through the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and disappeared into directing music vids and the occasional, hard to find short film. Fuck Hollywood. Anyway, this tale is a wondrously creepy, almost Lovecraftian bit of strange, based on a tale by Clark Ashton Smith. It's fairly simple in it's approach, and is about a young newly wed who is obsessed with the idea of finding the original manuscripts of the Necronomicon, which he does, from a lusty-crazed hermetic witch. The cinematogrophy here is beautiful, dreamy, and nightmarish, all at once. And the final outcome is, well, entertaining, and you'll just have to see it. Also, the frog-beast is one of the stranger creations I've seen in a bit and was glad this segment pulled no punches in showing it off. Excellent work, Mr. Stanley. How I've missed you, and hopefully we'll see more from you soon.
3) I Love You
Director: Buddy Giovannazi
This tale is absolutely one of the most brutal things I've seen put on film in a while, in a wholly psychological way. Perhaps because it's subject matter hit so very close to the home of a wrteched, not entirely dissimilar dissolution of a relationship I have recently endured. A man finds his wife has been infidelitous to him, and for much longer than he had suspected. Most of the segment is the two of them talking, as she gets more and more vicious, descriptively, verbally, and we find just how deep this web of betrayal goes. She is an unapologetic monster, and he still so blinded that his reactions are merely pathetic and desperate. It's literally hard to watch, gut-wrenching at points even. Of course, there is an interesting payoff at the end, though not one to make anyone feel better about anything prior in the segment. This was brought to us by Buddy Giovannazi, whose 1984 American Nightmare (aka: Combat Shock) is one of my all time favorite mindfucks of celluiod misery. He nails this one on every level. I actually took a bit of a breather after this piece, had a smoke, and contemplated it. It was that well written and executed.
4) Wet Dreams
Director: Tom Savini
This piece I found just ok. I'm not quite sure how Tom Savini fit into the group of directors but, eh, this was alright. Really, I'm not a fan of any of his directing work outside of the 1990 NOTLD remake. Oh, he stars in it too. It's about a man having these horrible dreams of being castrtated by an insectoidal vagina. He goes to his psychiatrist for help with this apparently chronic nightmare, and progresses wildly from there. This one will keep you guessing. It's a little goofy, fairly violent, and maintains a degenerate humor throughout. Short but sweet.
5) The Accident
Director: Douglas Buck
I am not familiar with the director of this segment, Douglas Buck. There's not much to really say about this one. It's a simple tale of a mother and daughter who happen across a terrible motorcycle accident, and the daughter basically asks, "Why do we die?" The mother then answers her questions, which grow ever deeper, to her best and most honest abilitiers. A bit of a tear jerker, this may at first seem oddly misplaced, but really it fits right in, and makes a nice break for the truly viscious territory that the next two segments follow.
6) Vision Stain
Director: Karim Hussain
Hussain is one of my favorite filmmakers, hands down. His 2000 Subconcious Cruelty is a film that needs to be experienced by an fan of strange, deep, violent transgressive cinema. And for those of you who have seen it, you know that Hussain plays for keeps. He keeps that going with his segment here, about a young girl with a bit of a habit: she's addicted to the memories which she drains from her victims occular fluid and injects into her own eyes. Fast paced, disturbingly violent, and filled with ghastly eyeball-violence imagery, this may actually be the strangest and most disconnected tale in the film. I thought the idea and execution were both brilliant, and it was a total charm to look at. Hussain also did the cinematography for another of my favorite films, Hobo With A Shotgun. Hopefully, he gets another full length of his own soon, as we need more filmmakers like Karim Hussain to keep the pot stirred and the audiences squirming, guessing, and most importantly, thinking.
The final installment is a truly odd bit of social commentary (which all the segments possess, in some way). This is another hard one to watch, and even to stomach. In fact, the particular kinds of food fetishism perpetrated here left me a bit queasy. It's just so awful, hahaha, and the human monsters perpetrating it are no better. It comes off at first like some sick break-up tale (which it is), then grows into something much more. I have no clue who David Gregory is, but I'd like to see more from him if this what goes through his warped little mind. This one will leave your jaw agape and your stomach a bit on the outs, especially when it hits it's fever-pitch conclusion.
In summary, I loved this film. If I had an actual star rating system, it would be a solid 4.5 out of 5. This is thinking persons horror for sure, and these trandgressive tales do their damndest to worm into those nasty little processing centers in your brain and attach themselves. Right after I watched this I made a series of phone calls to people telling them "hey, you gotta see this." Now, if you like your horror more on the high camp side of things, I would not recommend this so much. These are tales of intelligence with something to say. Beyond the sex and death and the gore and the strange, these are tales about us, at our absolute worst, which we all can and will be at some point in time.
This is not lightweight stuff, not for everyone, but I give it my highest recommendations.
---- Vincent Daemon's short fiction has appeared in over 24 publications, and he just put his first short story collection, Bury Me In A Nameless Grave: A Collection Of 11, together to eventually be published. He is also editor of the annual Grave Demand magazine, as well as a freelance editor for hire in his down time. He can be found on facebook, and at his blog The Writings Of A Depraved Mind http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/?zx=c2884c7b8567b656 , and contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org ----