Stars: Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, Catriona MacColl, Shane Woodward, André Hennicke, Suzan Anbeh, Debbie Rochon, James Gill, Lena Kleine, Kaniehtiio Horn, Lindsay Goranson, Guilford Adams | Directed by Richard Stanley, Buddy Giovinazzo, Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, David Gregory, Jeremy Kasten
Best known for their DVD and Blu-ray releases, Severin Films move into producing movies with the just-released-in-the-US The Theatre Bizarre, a brand-new anthology flick that captures the essence of the classic anthologies of old and adds a modern twist, with some of the biggest and brightest names in horror and short film helming a selection of stories that range from the strange to the avant garde to the completely grim…
Obviously inspired by grand guignol and all that it entails, the films six stories are framed by a weird stage show watched by the the unexpecting Newcomb and hosted by the legend that is Udo Keir, caked in a strange decaying make-up and looking like an eerie decrepit wind-up doll.
The first tale in this eclectic mix – most of which strangely centre around the breakdown in relationships is Richard (Hardware) Stanley’s Mother of Toads.
Imagine if you will the twisted tales found in the EC Comics of old, then add a hint of Lovecraft and a splash of classic 80s Italian horror a la Lucio Fulci and you’ll have something close to Mother of Toads. Set in the mountains of France, the short follows an American couple on holiday who, whilst browsing an antique stall, are given the opportunity to get their hands on an authentic Necronomicon. Jumping at the chance, even to the disdain of his girlfriend, our protagonist heads off to the stallholders home high in the Pyrenees… As anyone who’ ever watched a horror movie that deals with the Necronomicon will know this is not going to end well. And it doesn’t. In fact, if there was ever an excuse for staying sober and not indulging in one-night stands then the Mother of Toads is it! Stanley has to be applauded for going in a completely different direction to expectations with his short – after the dystopian horrors of Hardware I never in the slightest thought we’d end up with a Fulci-esque short. But the best of all? The decision to cast Italian horror goddess Catriona MacColl as the titular mother.
Talking of going in a completely different direction, the Buddy Giovinazzo directed segment I Love You follows a brief return to the grand guignol theatre and more of Udo Kier’s strange ramblings. I Love You couldn’t be more different from Mother of Toads – it’s a very stark (literally) tale of the end of love as a husband is told in no uncertain terms that his marriage is over by his wife who has no qualms about revealing her infidelities. Unlike …Toads’ dark and slimy tale of love and attraction, I Love You is an almost clinical look at the breakdown of a relationship, even down to the lighting. The short captivates thanks to the two leads Susan Anbeh and André Hennicke who seem to be battling each other to out-perform in as much as the husband and wife are battling each other at the end of their marriage. A very emotion-filled, yet strangely emotionless tale, this is very much a Giovinazzo film – it’s as bleak as his most famous work Combat Shock and as shocking, with a very bloody denouement.
Up next is Wet Dreams. This, the least successful tale of the bunch, comes from SFX icon-turned-director Tom Savini. The story however is a doozy. Like its predecessor, Wet Dreams sees a husband and wife duo battling it out – only this time in their dreams, each spouse dreaming the worst, and goriest, of possible outcomes for the other. Whilst the idea is interesting, the execution falters somewhat and the shock factor of “it’s only a dream” wears thin by the end. Although Wet Dreams does see Debbie Rochon give a stellar performance as the wife… and the conclusion is pretty grim.
Douglas Buck, probably most famous for the nasty Cutting Moments, helms the Theatre Bizarre’s most eclectic and oddly moving (well odd for a horror flick) segment, The Accident, which sees a mother try to explain the concept of death to her daughter as some sort of bedtime story following their involvement in a traffic accident earlier in the day. A clear stand out amongst the gore and the grue of the rest of The Theatre Bizarre‘s segments, Buck’s short has an almost ethereal look, couple that with tender storytelling and an eerie animatronic deer and The Accident is clearly the highlight of The Theatre Bizarre – hitting you on an emotional rather than visceral level.
Karim Hussain is given the unenviable task of following Buck with his short Vision Stains. The concept for this is simple: a mysterious woman preys on homeless and down-on-their-luck women, killing them and extracting the vitreous fluid from their eyes on point of death and injecting it into her own. It’s the old “life flashes before your eyes” idea played out to a horrific and literal level, only with a twist. You see this killer isn’t killing for the sake of killing – it’s an addiction, and addiction to telling the stories of the victims in diaries of their lives, diaries which the mysterious woman writes upon experiencing her victims lives for themselves… Only the addiction becomes too much and the woman’s pursuit of “stories” pushes her too far, with a consequence she never saw (pardon the pun) coming. Hussain’s short, much like Stanley’s, has an air of the Italian to it, with Giallo-style eyeball maimings and needles in eyeball close-ups a-plenty. However unlike Stanley’s tale, Vision Stains forgoes any other Euro-cinema trappings to present what has to be one of the grimmest and grimiest tales in this collection – a tale that almost rivals Buck’s entry in terms of story. It has the same emotional gutcheck as The Accident that’s for sure, coupled with a visceral one not present in Buck’s, but everything is sadly hampered by a voiceover that is completely unneeded and only serves to spell everything out for a more naive audience, ruining what could have been, for me, perfection.
The last of The Theatre Bizarre‘s bizarre tales is helmed by none other than Severin’s very own David Gregory. A short sharp shock of a story, Sweets is the most EC Comics like of the bunch, managing to mix food and sex in a fetish tale that would make Peter Greenaway proud. This story is nothing new, there was even a similar tale in the classic Amicus anthologies of old, but here we get a modern twist that plays on the concept of feeders and the excesses of modern society. Of course no anthology is complete without the final wrap-up and The Theatre Bizarredoesn’t disappoint, with the Jeremy Kasten directed wraparound tale getting its own final twist of terror that proves that good storytelling can be captivating… literally.