Directed By: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, et al
Starring: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Amanda Marquardt
Trivia: A concrete company based in Connecticut was one of the financial investors for this film
Inspired by France’s Grand Guignol, a Paris theater that specialized in dark, twisted productions, The Theatre Bizarre presents six individual short films (each helmed by a different director) telling six unique stories. Like any horror anthology, some of the movies that make up The Theatre Bizarre are better than others, but truth be told, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch.
A young woman named Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) is mesmerized by the abandoned theater across the street from her apartment. One night, she pays a it a visit, and is treated to six tales of the macabre presented by a clockwork mannequin (the great Udo Kier). Serving as the film’s wraparound story, this segment, titled Theatre Guignol, was directed by Jeremy Kasten. With its dark setting and life-size marionettes, Theatre Guignol is visually stunning, yet the main thrust of this sequence is to move us from one short to the next and on that level, it gets the job done.
First up is The Mother of Toads (directed by Richard Stanley), in which Martin (Shane Woodward), a student researching the occult, visits France with his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette). While there, he encounters an old Gypsy woman (Catriona MacColl) who, after selling Karina a pair of earrings inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s "Necronomicon", invites the couple to visit her at her home. Karina decides not to go, but Martin, fascinated by the woman’s knowledge of the occult, can’t pass up the opportunity. Once there, though, he realizes there’s more to his host than meets the eye. Next up is I Love You (directed by Buddy Giovinazzo), the tale of an overbearing husband (Andre M. Hennicke) who learns that his wife (Suzan Anben) is not the woman he thought she was. While these two are undoubtedly the lesser of the six shorts, both The Mother of Toads and I Love You are nonetheless well-acted, and intriguing enough to keep an audience’s attention (I Love You is especially engaging, and features a disturbing final scene). Though a bit light on horror, The Accident (directed by Douglas Buck) is a wonderful film about a young girl (Melodie Summard) who, after witnessing the aftermath of a fatal motorcycle accident, asks her mother (Lena Kleine) about the nature of death, and why people must die (part of what makes The Accident so effective is its haunting score, provided by composer Pierre Marchand). The Darkly comic Sweets (directed by David Gregory) is the stomach-turning story of Estelle (Lindsey Goranson) who, after seducing Greg (Guildford Adams) with a variety of sweets (from cotton candy to cake and everything in between), abruptly announces their relationship is over. But she and Greg will meet again, under very strange circumstances. A fetishistic look at the excesses of gluttony, Sweets is an entertaining, yet at the same time unusually disgusting short you won’t want to watch while eating dinner.
All four of the movies listed above are good in their own right, but the two remaining films are the standouts. Wet Dreams (directed by Tom Savini) is the sometimes sexy, often violent tale of a man (James Gill) who, every night, dreams that his penis has been cut off. Also featuring Debbie Rachon as the oft-abused wife and Savini himself as a therapist, the picture focuses on the power of dreams, and, as you’d expect from a Tom Savini flick, has its share of gore. Finally, we have the very creative Vision Stains (directed by Karim Hussain), in which a young girl (Kaniehtiio Horn), who’s discovered a way to preserve the memories of others, murders a series of drug addicts and vagrants (all female). Before finishing them off, however, she injects a needle into her victim’s eye. Then, just before the moment of death, she withdraws liquid from said eye and injects it into her own, thus passing the victim’s memories on to her, which she jots down in a notebook. Believing she’s doing a public service by preserving the life experiences of these lost young women, the girl attempts a new sort of transfusion when she encounters a pregnant prostitute (Imogen Haworth), one that threatens to destroy both her and her life’s work. A smart, crisply-paced picture, Vision Stains is, in my opinion, the finest in what is a strong collection of films.
One of the best horror anthologies in recent memory, The Theatre Bizarre features seven (the six shorts and the wraparound) distinctive stories that together make for a very satisfying motion picture experience.