Friday, June 8, 2012

Cinemasochism: THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)

Horror anthologies have always been a favorite of mine. Honestly, what is better than getting one good creepy story?  How about 4 or 5 creepy stories crammed into one film?  (I’m sure a short attention span might factor into my love of anthologies as well.)  Like most people my age, the first anthology I ever saw was the legendary TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I got to see Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), NIGHTMARES (1983) and the Amicus TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972).  Man, talk about being spoiled at an early age.  The anthology format is great when used properly. However, it is also the refuge of chaos, where filmmakers think they can just throw a bunch of shorts together to assemble a film (does Paul Smith stink eye towards CREEPTALES). Sadly, new horror anthology THE THEATRE BIZARRE falls closer to the latter.

When first announced, THE THEATRE BIZARRE (you know they are serious because they use the European spelling of theater) sounded promising as hell. The producers said 6 directors (7 if you include the wraparound) would be given free reign to create a short film inspired by Paris’ legendary gore-infused Grand Guignol theatrical group. “They must deliver a short film of 10-20 minutes inspired by the term ‘Grand Guignol.’ No other creative restrictions exist. We’re expecting great things from six of modern horror’s most distinctive writers and directors,” said producer Daryl Tucker in 2010.  Damn, maybe they should have imposed a few restrictions like – I don’t know – telling an interesting story?

The film kicks off with a wraparound segment directed by Jeremy Kasten that starts with SE7EN (1995) style credits (are we still aping that in 2011?).  A young girl (Virginia Newcomb) is scribbling on the wall in her apartment when she notices a theater outside her window.  You can tell she is disturbed because there is a shot of a creepy doll in her apartment (sigh). Anyway, she heads into the empty theater to be entertained by a wind up toy-human hybrid (Udo Kier) onstage. With his toy-human marionettes, he goes about introducing each story. Well, really Kier just mumbles something vague and we cut to each segment.  The stories unfold as follows:

THE MOTHER OF TOADS (D: Richard Stanley) focuses on a couple (Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette) vacationing in France who encounter a mysterious woman (Catriona MacColl) in a town market.  She lures the young man to her cottage in the nearby mountains with a promise of showing him the real Necronomicon.  Turns out she is really the Mother of Toads and uses an elixir to make him think she is beautiful so they can do it froggy style.  Eventually his girlfriend comes looking for him.  As the title suggests, this is heavily inspired by the “Three Mothers” trilogy by Dario Argento, with some Lucio Fulci thrown in too (look for the Eibon symbol cameo).  This segment is nicely shot with some good spooky location shooting.  The music, by Stanley regular Simon Boswell, is also really good.  Unfortunately, the story really lacks any punch.  I didn’t know it at the time of my initial viewing, but this would be the best the film has to offer.

I LOVE YOU (D: Buddy Giovinazzo) showcases the end of the relationship of paranoid Axel (André Hennicke) and his wife Mo (Suzan Anbeh) in their apartment in Berlin.  He wakes up covered in blood and then has flashbacks to where she confesses to cheating on him at every opportunity and that she is planning on leaving him.  Gee, I wonder how this one is going to end.  This entry is almost completely pointless and you'll figure it out way before Buddy G. hopes you will. Hennicke is an interesting actor though and his performance is good.

WET DREAMS (D: Tom Savini) has Donnie (James Gill) visiting a shrink (Savini) to talk about his horrible dreams of his wife (Debbie Rochon) chopping off his penis.  Of course, he is also having an affair with the shrink's wife.  This one is overly convoluted with too much dream-within-a-dream shenanigans on display.  However, this does succeed in at least the Grand Guignol aspect as a woman has her arms and legs torn from her torso while stretch out on a rack.  Other than that moment, not much is going on here.  Gill is spectacularly awful as the lead (his maniacal laughs in the end are hilarious).

THE ACCIDENT (D: Douglas Buck) is the shortest of the bunch and centers on a young girl asking her mom about death after they come upon the scene of a motorcycle accident on a back country road.  This is the artiest and most poetic of the bunch, leaving me scratching my head as to what it is doing here. I mean, I liked this one but it seems more appropriate for a Atom Egoyan wannabe festival.

VISION STAINS (D: Karim Hussain) has a young homeless girl (Kaniehtiio Horn) kill a bunch of down on their luck women. Why?  Because she has found that by removing fluid from their eye at the moment of death and injecting it into her own, she can see their lives and write down their stories to give them a voice.  Easier than just interviewing them I guess?  This has perhaps the best idea of any of the segments, but Hussain ruins it by not really fleshing it out. He also opts for a truly laughable ending.  No joke, the girl’s voice over says something along the lines of "now that I have lost my sight, I can truly see." *slaps forehead*

SWEETS (D: David Gregory) has love struck Greg (Guilford Adams) upset that his honey bun Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) wants to end their relationship.  He loved that she was plumping him up on sugary foods, not knowing she belongs to a group that likes to feast on guys like him.  The gross out factor is high here and the body dismemberment in the end is Grand Guignol worthy.  It is well shot with good performances and cult actress Lynn Lowry has a small role.  However, you'll figure it out within seconds since it is basically a Brothers Grimm fairy tale wannabe., subtle
With all the stories wrapped up, we then cut back to the theater as the presentation ends and – shock of shocks – the girl in the audience has now morphed into the new storyteller. I seriously wonder how the hell something like that gets funded.  Like, if you are doing an anthology, wouldn't you want the stories to be top notch attention grabbers? Outside of the Stanley segment, these all seems like ideas the directors had halfway scratched out on a piece of torn paper. Zero attention is given to presenting a clever story or twist in most of the segments.  It is like the producers felt it would just succeed by having something shocking/gross happen in each segment and the rest would just mesh on the reputations of the filmmakers contributing.  Sure, that’ll get you applause at some place like Fantasia, but its just not working here.  Is it as bad as something like GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES?  No.  But it is pretty darn close.  I'd recommend only the Stanley and Buck segments.

2 Reactions:

  1. It's amusing to see just how divisive this flick is -- I don't think I know *anyone* who lists the same segments as being their favorites! For the record, I loved Giovinazzo's entry and thought Savini's was the runner-up.

  2. Could this have *been* more disappointing, especially considering the talent involved and the hype surrounding it? Elevated expectations aside, this was nothing more than a cobbled together collection of so-so short films - solid production values in service of stories with no real punchline. Yet, with a short film, the punchline is WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT. And the wraparound is The. Laziest. Thing. I've. Ever. Seen. Hell, even the old Amicus VAULT OF HORROR premise had more going for it and it's pretty effing lame.


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