The Theatre Bizarre (2011) - Anthologies have been really making a comeback the last few years. The VHS films and the ABCs of Death are a couple more successful entries. The Theater Bizarre with some wonderfully strange stories, more of a weird tales than hard horror is the latest to be reviewed here. Search anthology on the site for more reviews. This one starts a fever dream of an artist, Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) obsessed with the old theater across the street from her. Seeming emotionally unstable and frigidity she is drawn from her apartment into the theater. A scattering of mannequins occupy seats in the audience. Her presence raises a puppet like master of ceremonies, Peg Poett (Udo Kier) who reveals some other mechanized puppet that leads into each of the stories of this anthology. The trick of the interwoven piece is as each time the master of ceremonies returns he is a bit more human. Enola at the end becomes one of the puppets deposited onstage to become part of the play for the next person drawn to the Theatre Bizarre. It was written by Zach Chassler and directed by Jeremy Kasten. There was a depth of clarity missing in this piece where it did not have meaning in a way that the viewer could see it as one of the parts of the whole. Sure it connected the stories giving a familiar place to come back to and a way into the next. It was not strong enough though to stand on its own. It's meaning not communicated strongly enough leaving it just a device and not a self supporting piece of the film. It did have the wonderful treat of having the renown actor Udo Kier, a veteran of genre film, extraordinary performer he brings an expertise that raises the piece and at 70 years old commands a frame better than most actors.
The first is Mother of Toads about an anthropologist Martin (Shane Woodward) and his girlfriend, Karina (Victoria Maurette) who come across an old star symbol at a market in an old French village . The Store keeper, Mere (Catriona MacColl) talks of it being part of her family traditions for generations. She invites him (a fact not lost on his girlfriend) to come to the french countryside to see a copy of the Necronomicon. As someone who studies such things Martin starts fitting the trip into their schedule right away without really consulting but more explaining how its going to happen. There is some nice simple character dialog in this piece that defines the characters and brings the viewer right into their situation. He obviously has been here for a longer time than she and his condescending attitude quickly brings up the cracks in their relationship. She arrives to join him, a vacation for her and he has his interests forefront in his mind paying less attention to her than he should. Slightly obsessed with the symbols on a marker near the road, that he sees as signs, the boundary between the real world and the spirit world. We are having him cross a boundary, it may not be completely clear to the audience as this transition is subtle and it is certainly not clear to Karina who just wants to get to the spa but there is a symbolic change.
Martin arrives at the house of Mere and fails to notice the symbols on the floor below the table she sits him at. We begin to learn that she is a witch and follower of the Mother of Toads and through mostly musical queues we see that her intentions for him go beyond sharing her beliefs. It is a classic motif of a witch seducing a traveler on the road and is done with atmosphere and style by director Richard Stanley. Mere is played with, possibly overplayed by MacColl yet another veteran actor who known for some favorites from the seventies, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead. Stanley also holds a place in genre hearts with his wonderful, Dust Devil, as well as directing the less acclaimed The Island of Dr. Moreau and Hardware. He pulls no punches with this story and it is appreciated.
Seduced and condemned the couple could have been part of an elaborate fever dream but instead we get some harsh reality. Karina coming back to pick up her missing boyfriend discovers the drugged and in the throws of some slimy lust making with a younger more fuck-able version of Mere. She runs off into the now toad filled countryside to meet her doom. He wakes staring at an old photo that could be him.It's some old magic that enchanted him. A creature with the desire for a former lover a role that he easily filled. The Mother of Toads has found the love of her past in the present and his inevitable rejection of her will also mean he is short for this world. There are some excellent visuals at this point in the movie. Groggy Martin wakes and the first indication we the audience get that things are awry is the clawed amphibian are draped over the man. Then as he gets up we get the full view of the toad creature sleeping next to him, our view from above.
A dark tale warning that one should never reject a god. Mere certainly gives Martin the chance to save himself. She offers him more of the wonders of a goddess if only he will stay and be hers. His rejection seals his fate.
The second tale, "I Love You" opens with a man Axel (André Hennicke) waking on a bathroom floor of his bathroom with a gash on his hand and wondering why his wife, Mo (Suzan Anbeh) is not home. An obsessive man with a drinking problem he is a man losing the woman he loves. He wants to know everything about her life at all times. She has decided that the overly attentive husband is not what she wants, but is is more than that. There is an intimacy problem that they have where he thinks sex is for him and fails to meet her needs. As we learn more we start to wonder about whether this is what it seems or some sort of hallucination the broken man is having. The story unfolds and we learn more and more about how broken their relationship has been. They have a conversation but the whole time you can think this is his subconscious working out the reasons why he has sunk so far. As the memories come to him now back in the aftermath on his bathroom floor we see that things are much worse than previously presented. It is an incredibly sad take on the dangers of beautiful crazy love and how we create the reality we want when in its thrall. Written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo.
In "Wet Dreams" we meet a man Donnie (James Gill) driven by his desire but where his fantasies that become horrible nightmares. A wife Carla (Debbie Rochon) with emotional and physical scars theirs is a relationship on the rocks. Donnie's therapist Dr Maurey (Tom Savini) tries to help him get to the bottom of it but that role does not seem professional in his interactions with Donnie, maybe this is the first hint of the twisty twist of this segment. Whose dream is this anyway? Sometimes the penalty for our actions can't be dispelled by recognizing it is a nightmare. Making it hard to tell what is fantasy and what is reality is a problem for this segment. Maybe its the writing by John Esposito or maybe its the Directing by Savini or editing by Douglas Buck, or even this viewer may have been the issue but this segment was hard to define. Certainly it is a revenge tale but what part of it is real?
"The Accident" is a meditation on death, framed in the eyes of a little girl who saw death on the side of the road. Traveling in her car a motorcycle hits a deer and is killed. The child trying to understand what she has seen asked her mother a bunch of question. She sees the suffering deer still alive and her mother calling the accident in. Cut with Mother (Lena Kleine) and Child (Melodie Simard) discussing the incident later. Touching but these type of stories have a hard to pull off. The child seems too smart in her dialog and the explanations too simple. It makes you wonder who the audience the piece is intended for. It is well done and a topic anyone with children will at some time have to breach. Not really fitting neatly with the other pieces in this film as it is far from the bizarre threshold the film name implies. Still writer director Douglas Buck makes a emotional short about the fragility of life.
"Vision Stains" A strange but enjoyable story of a women gone mad with visions of other peoples memories. This young woman (Kaniehtiio Horn), a psychopath really learns that the key memories of a person's life are captured in the fluid of their eyes. When they die all those memories come to the forefront and can be extracted using a needle. So this young woman kills homeless women and using a needle extracts the memories from their eyes in what is wonderfully done special effects. She then injects this eye fluid in her own eye and relives the victims life memories. She records all she sees into journals and sees herself not as an addicted killer but as a recorder of those women's lives. Her commitment is important to her next idea where she steps even a step further than she has. Not ready to settle for live that have been lived she wants to see the memories of someone who has yet to see. Then things go horribly wrong. Writer / director Karim Hussain has statements in the climax about predestination and lack of original lives and stories was cynical, first in its assumption of even a distracted God but second in that knowing we are predestined seemed unbearable. A side note that there are several stories about people coming out of the theater during Visions Stains and fainting from the eye damage special effects.
The final story "Sweets" is a sad and sorry tale of a relationship at its end.Written and directed by David Gregory it is centered around the gluttony of sweets. We see a fat (ish) man, Greg (Guilford Adams) struggling to come to terms with his attractive girlfriend Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) as she dumps him. The Excellent straight faced liturgy of cliche excuses she runs though are a great counter to his overly emotional almost child like whining. The disgusting room filled with rotting sweets is the perfect metaphor for the crumbling relationship. Then the mixed in scenes of them in happier times is a perfect counter of then and now. Then when the turn of the story come it is so wonderfully evil that it makes the whole story. The truly grisly scene is worth the wait.
Overall this was an interesting anthology. Like every anthology the opportunity to have hits and misses is there. This one hits more than it misses. Strange is what it is about and it lives up tho its title of Bizarre. Recommended.