Film: THE THEATRE BIZARRE
Directors: Multiple (check segment reviews below)
The Theatre Bizarre is a film I had been looking forward to for quite some time, and it was a very happy accident to have had the good fortune to come across it during an “Oops” moment while looking movies up on Netflix. It is an anthology film, of which I’ve always been quite fond of *(perhaps because I am a short fiction writer — or vice-versa), and this production I had read about, missed it at the Philly Film Festival, and in general had wanted to see for quite some time. Happy accident, indeed.
Featuring varied assortment of transgressive filmmakers, several of whom I have been a long time fan of: Richard Stanley (Hardware, 1990), Karim Hussain (Subconscious Cruelty, 2000), Buddy Giovannazzi (Combat Shock, 1984), as well as some players a bit newer to genre, of which this film, while definitively horror, smacks your standard archetypes in the face and laughs while they cry, with nowhere to hide their shame: this is deep, dark, intense, and at some points downright sickly funny. These are mostly filmmakers whose previous work has been wholly original, challenging, or perhaps even caused some issues-in-the-name-of-art for them. Which is exactly the kind of adrenaline shot of originality this genre needs forcefully mainlined to squelch out the shit like, well, just about everything else out there (staring directly at you, Platinum Dune Productions — why?). You will find nothing standard here, and perhaps some things that dig way deep down into the darkest thoughts of the human psyche – – – perhaps even your own.
1)The Theatre Guignol (wraparound tale)
Director: Jeremy Kassten
This is the wraparound segment, tieing the whole strange shebang together in it’s own weird transgressive way. We see a strange looking and harried young girl, finagling with her creepy artwork and the voices in her head that call to her from the abandoned, severely dilapidated grand guignol/burlesque theatre across the street. In a seemingly tranced, automaton-like state she wanders over, sits in mostly empty darkness, and watches the actual automaton The Peg Poet (Udo Keir) jump to life and begin to narrate the intros to these brilliant tales of sorrow, monstrosity, the Occult, woe and pain. Now, Udo is SERIOUSLY creepy here, the make-up job on him phenomenal, as in between tales, he begins to become more human, and the strange girl slowly begins to become the living embodiment of the Automaton. An interesting spin, very well done, and (I felt) a great wrap-around piece (so many of which are sketchy in the world of the antho-film) to construct, reconstruct, and deconstruct, simultaneously at points, this truly odd and unique slice o’ 4th Wall-shattering celluloid *(I do believe this film was shot 35mm).
2) Mother Of Toads
Director: Richard Stanley
Our first actual segment is directed by none other than Richard Stanley. This brought me a great deal pleasure. I have been a fan of Richard Stanley’s since his early 90’s films Hardware (one of my favorites) and Dust Devil. Unfortunately he got screwed by Hollywood halfway through the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and basically Mr. Stanley disappeared into directing music videos (mostly for goth and post-punk bands, Fields Of The Nephilim in particular) and the occasional, incredibly hard to find short film. Fuck Hollywood. Anyway, this tale is a wonderfully creepy, Lovecraftian-themed bit of classic strange, based on a tale by HPL acolyte and friend (as well as actual Occultist) Clark Ashton Smith. It’s fairly simple in it’s approach, and is about a young newlywed who is obsessed with the idea of finding the original manuscripts of the Necronomicon while on his Honeymoon, which he does, from a lusty, crazed hermetic witch. The cinematography here is beautiful, dreamy as CAS’ writing, and utterly nightmarish, all at once. And the final outcome is, well, entertaining at the very least — you’ll just have to see it. Also, the frog-beast *(yes, that is exactly what I said, ‘frog beast’) is one of the stranger creations I’ve seen in a bit and was glad this segment pulled no punches in showing it, or any other number of this segment’s fascinating charms off. Excellent work, Mr. Stanley. How I’ve missed you, and hopefully we’ll see more from you very, very soon.
3) I Love You
Director: Buddy Giovannazi
This tale is absolutely one of the most brutal things I’ve seen put on film in a while, in a wholly psychological way. Perhaps because it’s subject matter hit so very close to the home of a wretched, not entirely dissimilar dissolution of a relationship I had at that time endured, that went way south in an all-too-familiar manner. A man finds his wife *(kinda had me thinking ‘thank fukk I’ve never been married’ at several points) has been ambitiously infidelitous to him, and for far, far longer than he had initially — yet for quite some time — suspected. Most of the segment is the two of them talking, as she gets more and more vicious, descriptively, verbally, and we find just how deep this web of betrayal really spins. She is an unapologetic monster, yet he is still so blinded by both her icy-reptilian beauty and frigid-fukkdoll aesthetic, as well as her deliberate, verbal sexual tormenting of him, that his reactions are merely pathetic and desperate. It’s literally hard to watch, gut-wrenching at points even. Of course, there is an interesting payoff at the end, though not one to make anyone feel better about anything prior in the segment. This was brought to us by Buddy Giovannazi, whose 1984 celluloid debut was none other than the brillianty twisted American Nightmare (aka: Combat Shock), is still one of my all time favorite mindfukks of movie misery ever made; raw and guerilla-style filmmaking at its finest. Giovanazzi nails I Love You perfectly on every possible conceptual level. I actually took a bit of a breather after this piece, had a smoke, contemplated it, and processed it for days afterwards. It was that potent, well written and executed, Buddy G. making good once again with another tale of transgressive, implicit, real-life horror.
4) Wet Dreams
Director: Tom Savini
This piece I found just ok. I’m not quite sure how Tom Savini fit into this group of directors but, eh, for what it was, this was alright. Really, I’m not a fan of any of his directing work outside of his ambitious directorial debut, the 1990 NOTLD remake. Oh, surprise, he stars in it too. It’s about a man having these horrible dreams of being castrated by an insectoidal vagina. He goes to his psychiatrist for help with this apparently chronic nightmare, and the short progresses wildly from there. This one will keep you guessing. It’s a little goofy, fairly violent, and maintains a degenerate humor throughout. Short but sweet, this may be Tom Savini’s best directorial efforts. Interesting that the plot boils down to a small, private conspiracy wherein everyone is a sociopathic egomaniac.
5) The Accident
Director: Douglas Buck
I am not familiar with the director of this segment, Douglas Buck. There’s not much to really say about this one. It’s a simple tale of a mother and daughter who happen across a terrible motorcycle accident, and the daughter basically asks, “Why do we die?” The mother then answers her questions, which grow ever deeper, some downright strange, to her best and most honest abilities. A bit of a tear jerker, this may at first seem oddly misplaced, but really it fits right in, and makes a nice break for the truly vicious territory that the next two segments quite willingly swan dive right into.
6) Vision Stain
Director: Karim Hussain
Hussain is one of my favorite filmmakers, hands down. His 2000 Subconscious Cruelty is a film that needs to be experienced by any fan of strange, deep, violent, surreal, vile-grit transgressive cinema. And for those of you who have seen it, you know that Hussain plays for keeps. He keeps that going with his segment here, Vision Stain, about a young girl with a bit of a habit: she’s addicted to the memories which she drains from her victims ocular fluid with a syringe and proceeds to inject those ocular fluids into her own eyes. Fast paced, disturbingly violent, and filled with ghastly eyeball-violence imagery, this may actually be the strangest and most disconnected tale in the film. I thought the idea and execution were both brilliant, and it was a total charm to look at. Hussain also did the cinematography for another of my favorite films, Hobo With A Shotgun. Hopefully, he gets another full length of his own soon, as we need more filmmakers like Karim Hussain to keep the pots of political-correctness ill-stirred and the audiences squirming, guessing, and most importantly, thinking. This is not shock for the sake of shock, Hussain is saying something quite different and deep here.
Director: David Gregory
The final installment is a truly odd bit of social commentary (which all the segments possess, in some way). This was another hard one to watch, and even to stomach. In fact, the particular kinds of food fetishism perpetrated here left me more than a bit queasy. It’s just so awful to actually see and hear, as are the human monsters perpetrating it upon one another; they are no better, there is no empathy. It comes off at first like some sick break-up tale (which it is), then grows into something much, much . . . more. I have no clue who David Gregory is, but I’d like to see more from him if this what goes through his warped little mind. This one will leave your jaw agape and your stomach a bit on the outs, especially when it hits it’s fever-pitch conclusion. Do yourself a favor: do not eat junk food while watching this segment. In fact, don’t eat anything. If you do happen to be a junk food aficionado — this’ll stop that real quick, heh.
In summary, I loved this film. If I had an actual skull-rating system, it would be a solid 4.5 out of 5. This is thinking person’s horror for sure, and these transgressive tales do their damndest to worm into those nasty little processing centers in your brain and attach themselves. Right after I watched this I made a series of phone calls to people telling them “hey, you gotta see this.” Now, if you like your horror more on the high-camp side of things, I would not recommend this so much. These are tales of intelligence, each one with something different to say. Beyond the sex and death and the gore and the strange, these are tales about us, at our absolute worst, which we all can and will be at some point in time. THE THEATRE BIZARRE is a mirror held by human monsters, one and the same, and meant to reflect our own demons, death-trips, and self-destructions right back into our own blind fukking eyes. There is your caveat — you have been warned — now go Do What Thou Will or something.
This is not lightweight stuff; this is kick-you-in-the-teeth, atypical, transgressive — deep — real horror — honest, raw, not for everyone. Not for the simpering or sensitive; not for the laugh-camp Troma fan; but most certainly for myself — I give THE THEATRE BIZARRE my highest recommendation possible.
Vincent Daemon, writer and rabblerouser, can be followed on FB @https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 , and join his blog The Writings Of A Depraved Mind @http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/?zx=e40931ba40511a11