I was a late bloomer when it came to horror as my parents shielded me from the late night news and anything R-rated. I caught my first glimpses of iconic horror films through the cracks of my fingers. Breaking free from a filtered childhood, what ignited my love for the genre was HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt,” a genre series of shorts that played on a weekly basis much like an anthology. To say short form horror gave me the bloody bug is an understatement. I have a soft spot for anthologies, and more importantly it’s the root of my own evil. Severin Films, not known for their own productions, embarked on a very daring journey that resulted in a carnival of terror known simply as Theatre Bizarre — a film featuring several director’s unforgettable visions of grotesque terror.
While I want to tread on my words carefully (I wouldn’t dare use the word “masterpiece”), I would simply state that Theatre Bizarre is a welcomed collection of films that won’t soon be forgotten. It’s the kind of film that in 2034 revival houses will be respooling (or booting up an HD print) for a late night extravaganza.
Jeremy Kasten (The Wizard of Gore) presents the film’s wraparound, “Theatre Guignol,” which stars Udo Kier as the show’s presenter; a living puppet if you will that introduced each segment. It’s a colorful and well-acted segment that’s welcomed back between each director’s piece.
Horror fans will gush at Hardware director Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraftian tale, “The Mother of Toads,” which is simple in form, but carries a few uncomfortable “laugh out loud” moments (ever hear the saying “coyote ugly”?) and the “Mother of Toads” (wink, wink).
Buddy Giovinazzo steals the show with his gut-wrenching “I Love You”, which is propelled by the spectacular performances by André Hennicke and Suzan Anbeh. The heartbreaking tale a deceit takes a twisted turn that’s both shocking and incredibly violent.
Effects legend Tom Savini unfortunately tells the weakest of tales with his psychological horror “Wet Dreams,” which the beautiful Debbi Rochon toplines as a wife who’s had it with her unfaithful husband. While there are some insane and gruesome effects, the story feels slightly heartless and lacks the directorial experience of some of the other talent. It’s perfectly placed dead center as a “good time to take a piss” piece.
Sticking out like a sore thumb is celebrated shorts director Douglas Buck (who also directed Sisters) and his “The Accident”, a short that’s so incredibly artistic and powerful that is has no place in this anthology. On its own, “The Accident” is a riveting reflection on death by a young child, as explained by her mother. It also features some unsettling FX work that involved a dead deer. As part of the anthology, it doesn’t quite fit as it lacks the “fun” most anthologies celebrate. In short, this one’s a gut-puncher.
Canadian favorite Karim Hussain takes a poke at directing with “Vision Stains”, the Kaniehtiio Horn-starrer that’s a unique reflection on the meaning of life. Horn’s character pulls the visions and memories out of homeless junkie’s eyes and injects it into her own. While a tense and thought-provoking tale, the entire segment is basically tarnished by a cheesy voice over that’s a big no-no in any movie. The audience isn’t retarded; they can SEE what’s going on (ironic, I know).
Severin’s leading man, David Gregory (Plague Town), wraps the anthology with a cold-hearted and hilarious “Hansel and Gretel”-inspired story that tells of a beautiful woman “fattening up” her boyfriend with delicious candy. “Sweets” features some of the best directing choices that are playful with the audience, ensuring that the moviegoers walk out with a big smile on their face.
Well-paced, absolutely hilarious, scary, bloody, grotesque and demented, Theatre Bizarre lives up to its name. Shockingly carrying only a few missteps, an audience is recommended for one of those true movie-going experiences that’ll end with cheers and applause.