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The Theater Bizarre


2011 | 114 min | R | 2.39:1

The Theater Bizarre

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Theatrical release date


 20 January, 2012

Country of origin


 United States

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The Theater Bizarre Preview  

5
 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 16, 2012

Every now and again, a team of inspired filmmakers takes on the challenge of a horror anthology picture, bonding their ghoulish perspectives and creepy inspirations together to create a provocative exercise in revulsion, perfect for short attention spans. “The Theater Bizarre” is a low-budget attempt to provide a wealth of fresh nightmare material, sharing six stories of death and obsession that range from the pleasingly monstrous to the tediously abstract. As with most anthology efforts, only a few of the segments truly shine, yet the production as a whole carries itself confidently and shares a few scattered pleasures.



Enola (Virginia Newcomb) is a disturbed woman drawn to a mysterious theater near her apartment. Inside, the peculiar Peg Poett (Udo Kier, in terrific chipped paint make-up) provides six disturbing stories for his audience of one, gradually hypnotizing Enola into submission. “The Mother of Toads” (directed by Richard Stanley) observes the efforts of a young man (Shane Woodward) dying to learn more about ancient occult practices from a beguiling witch (Catriona MacColl). “I Love You” (directed by Buddy Giovinazzo) explores the paranoid, possibly murderous relationship between a bored woman (Suzan Anbeh) and her overly sensitive husband (Andre Hennicke). “Wet Dreams” (directed by Tom Savini) probes the unconscious turmoil within lout Donnie (James Gill), whose endless torment of wife Carla (Debbie Rochon) has resulted in a frightening comeuppance. “The Accident” (directed by Douglas Buck) inspects questions of life and death after a mother (Lena Kleine) and daughter (Melodie Simard) witness a horrible motorcycle accident. “Vision Stains” (directed by Karim Hussain) tracks the efforts of Writer (Kaniehtiio Horn), who uses a needle to extract memories from the eyes of her victims, gathering the information to inspire her work. And “Sweets” (directed by David Gregory) sloshes around with needy Greg (Guilford Adams) and icy Estelle (Lindsay Goranson), two bingers failing to make a clean break in their relationship.

“The Theater Bizarre” is largely inspired by famed Grand Guignol Theater in Paris (closed in 1962), a company that specialized in intense horror shows, sickening audiences with ghastly tales of murder and grisly displays of gore. The tradition is enthusiastically resurrected by the filmmakers behind this feature, who all display interest in facets of Grand Guignol storytelling, weaving established themes and grim tonalities into their own work. While the framing segments (directed by Jeremy Kasten) with Enola and the puppet-like Peg do retain a stage-bound presence, initiating a sense of tribute and structure, the effort is largely cinematic, permitting the team of helmers to tear off into opposite directions of horror, with each presentation carrying a specific creative fingerprint.



Strangely, “The Theater Bizarre” loses gas as it goes along, peaking early with “The Mother of Toads,” Stanley’s tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and Italian horror, featuring a spirited performance from cult legend McColl. Offering sex, demonic symbols, and an amphibious threat, the segment is wonderfully goopy and unexpected, kicking off the whole feature on a promising note of insanity. That sinister momentum carries into “I Love You,” which highlights two fantastic performances from Hennicke and Anbeh, diving into a twisted story of habitual adultery and humiliation, with Giovinazzo introducing a healthy amount of psychological discomfort to the proceedings. Pace begins to erode with “Wet Dreams,” finding Savini atypically blocked when transmitting a dreamscape revenge story that involves extensive penis trauma. It’s ghastly, but severely hampered by its brief running time. “The Accident” maintains an almost hallucinatory quality, grinding the enterprise to a halt as it works out tepid questions of loss and suffering. “Vision Stains” is an interesting idea (with visceral elements of ocular puncturing) quickly stripped of its invention through tiresome direction. And “Sweets” remains the most controversial entry of the group, carrying an interpretational atmosphere of toxic devotion while steeped in gross-out shenanigans. Some might be charmed by the parade of repulsive visuals, but there’s little to the half-realized short beyond the ick.



“The Theater Bizarre” is a mixed bag, though one with promise, perhaps explored more successfully in sequels. Despite its faults, it’s certainly a welcome return to the lost art of anthology filmmaking, giving viewers a wide range of doom and desire to feast upon while it celebrates a bygone era of cleverly designed, short-lived servings of terror.

Starring: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Catriona MacColl, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini
Directors: Douglas Buck, David Gregory, Buddy Giovinazzo, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini

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