DVD REVIEW: THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2012)

The Theatre BizarreTHE THEATRE BIZARRE starts with a great deal of traditional darkness and atmosphere as the young Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) decides to venture into an old, abandoned movie theater whose doors have been left ajar. This theater has been an obsession for Penny, as her bedroom is located directly across the street and she has a montage of pictures and photos posted on her bedroom wall. Penny, once in the old theater is greeted by some very creepy automatons upon the stage, their faces painted and carnival music playing in the film’s background and score. The film starts out with some serious, old-school atmosphere from horror films of days gone past.

Our first story, “Mother of Toads“, is directed by Richard Stanley (HARDWARE) and revolves around two American tourists who, while visiting France, come across an old lady selling jewelry and other items. One of the items is reminiscent of the Necronomicon, and opens the door for the old lady, portrayed by Catriona MacColl (THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD), to invite Martin (Shane Woodward) back to her cottage in the woods. His girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette) goes shopping instead and when she comes back to find her boyfriend (who has been gone for hours) who has stayed there long into the night she is in for a surprise. The segment is dripping with atmosphere, dark shots, and was going for an overall creepy look and feel. I think the lighting and vibe Stanley and his cinematographer Karim Hussain (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, WALLED IN) was that of some old Italian horror films reminiscent of a Lucio Fulci film or Bava film, but the one aspect that makes a Fulci film enticing to watch is the large amounts of heavy gore and blood. Sadly, “Mother of Toads” is lacking in the gore department, as well as some sort of action occurring to occupy the viewer’s attention. The short film was lacking in intensity and a tad bit on the slow and boring side.

I really enjoyed the production values, the selection of shots and use of lighting, but the aside from the technical achievements and cinematography, the plot dragged along and could hardly keep my attention. Stanley is a director I admire (HARDWARE was incredible), but this story lacked decent dialogue (most of the short film had eerie music being played as the “action” ensued) and was more focused on the look than the actual story inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. I just wish there was a bigger payoff than the one that was delivered. I was really looking forward to things picking up as I started the next short film.

The 2nd short story, directed by Buddy Giovinazzo (COMBAT SHOCK), entitled “I Love You“, was a story that had a very Euro-look to it (it was shot in Berlin, Germany) and Andre Hennicke (PANDORUM) is a German actor (usually reprising the role of a Nazi) very artfully crafting a needy, borderline psychotic and extremely obsessive husband who smothers his wife Mo (Suzan Anbeh) and ends up pushing her away. The short film looks gorgeous, well lit shots and a good use of the brightly painted white walls and pure white items place randomly around the rooms. The whiteness of some of the shots just jumps out at the viewer, thoughts of how good the blood will look when paired with that whiteness. My wishes were granted later on in the film.

As the focus of this film is a marital dispute gone deadly wrong, I was hoping for some serious blood and gore. The short story was another slow burn, laden with intense scenes of dialogue as the two actors argued and played the roles of the dissatisfied wife and the pathetic, clinging husband. Both actors played their parts perfectly. “I Love You” definitely is no COMBAT SHOCK, a statement that has probably been stated over and over again for Giovinazzo who many feel (including myself) was his best film (and the only other film I have seen of his). I think that Giovinazzo really did a pretty fine job of keeping the viewer attentive (although I really wish that the beautiful German actress Suzan Anbeh shed some of the clothes and unearthed her beauty). Overall, I thought I was going to be less attentive to the film because it is more of a drama with elements of horror than a straight-up horror film. It did surprise me, most notably due to the strong acting and performances given by Anbeh and Hennicke. The story was, again, light on the blood and gore, but heavy on the dialogue and well-written. That is not to say that there was no blood or gore, one just has to sit through the whole film. The end sequence of the movie had a very Italian Argento look and feel to it and the gore effects were top-notch. Using a very white bed-sheet with very red blood works out nicely. The best scene in the film was saved for the end.

Interestingly enough, the framing segments starring Udo Kier keep viewers attentive while adding loads of atmosphere in-between stories and keeping things creepy. The third story, entitled “Wet Dreams” was directed by special effects maestro Tom Savini, a man whose career seems to be moving in a different direction. I have heard and read that Savini would like to take a stab at acting more in films, and after seeing his performance as the psychiatrist in this story, I still think that Savini really should stick to what he knows best: practical and organic make-up and special effects. I found it quite amusing that Savini used his current girlfriend (as found out by listening to the commentary of the story) in a dream sequence in which she is prancing around naked. The film stars Debbie Rochon (HANGER, TROMEO & JULIET) as Carla and James Gill (IM NOT THERE) as Donnie. Donnie (Gill) has been having re-occurring wet dreams in which he has been cheating on his wife. One of the sequences is interesting because the naked lady prancing around in a thong and shirtless Jodi Christianson has a pussy monster. Yeah,  pussy monster. Readers will have to watch the film to know exactly what I am talking about.

This segment has quite a bit of gore in it and that was in no doubt because Savini was involved with the project. From listening to the commentary, one could tell that Savini had a large input in how scenes and parts of the film were done. The commentary was very amusing because Savini, who directed “Wet Dreams“,  and writer Esposito definitely are battling for time on the commentary. I found the commentary to be more entertaining than the dialogue going on in the film. If not for the gore in the film, which was quite fantastic, I would have rated this short film a complete dud. I felt that the story was a little bit confusing, mixing dream sequences with the present situation on hand. I was slightly annoyed that I was not sure what was real and what was fantasy. I guess that Savini needs some more practice in crafting a less confusing sequence of scenes. The gore and violence in the film was the only saving grace—that and the pussy monster scene!

Taking a slight detour in the horror department is director Douglas Buck’s extremely potent and impactful “The Accident” which focuses on death and a young girl’s curiosity as to why people die. The acting by the little girl (Melodie Simard) is very convincing and paired perfectly with the tenderness and kindness that actress Lena Kleine exudes. The story was nothing short of beautiful with a very serene and sad soundtrack, leading up to a life-lesson for the little girl (Sinard) as she confronts death head on. The story questions an age-old question: Why do people die? Who or what chooses why and when one person will die and one person will live?

It just goes to show one that a story with little to no gore, a sparing amount of blood, and not a whole lot of dialogue can really make an impact on the viewer if the right scenes are shot and matched with incredible impact. I thought that Buck crafted a beautiful story that keeps viewers attentive with riveting performances and is a nice segue-way and departure from the prior horror shorts. This was a different kind of horror, one focusing on death and the philosophical aspect of it.

The next short, directed by Karim Hussain (who also wrote it as did most of the directors with their films) and also the cinematographer with editing by Douglas Buck. The short film, “Vision Stains“, is a story about a girl that goes around killing deadbeats and junkies and in their final moments of life stabs their eyeballs with a large syringe and stealing their lives as seen through their own eyes. Simply, she is a serial killer and after she steals their eyeball juice and injects them into her own she sees and has visions of their life’s through a series of scenes and key sequences. It really is a cool concept and the scenes in which actress Kaniehtiio Horn, playing the writer of the victims she murders, goes around collecting all of these victims’ life-stories. The film really had a cool look and feel to it and it was unique in that the lead was a strong, female character. One really gets a feel for the intensity of actress Horn as she murders each woman, all of which are homeless and struggling to survive.

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The story is bleak, visually dark and filled with hues of gray that work out very well for the whole look of the film. The movie is laden with mise-en-scene, full of wonderful cinematography, and littered with montage scenes. The editing in the film was great and Douglas Buck did a superb job piecing everything together. At times, I thought the story could move along at a little bit swifter pace, but that is in part because many of the slower scenes are full of artistic impact and technical grace.

If one hates needle scenes, which I do, this film will pack some serious uneasiness. All of the scenes in which the needle pierces the eyeball had me squirming. The film has a bit of nudity in it, which is not very attractive due to the dirty and filth of the homeless women and their characters but really added a reality and grimness to the look of the film and validated the use of the nudity in regards to the women’s living environment. Kudos to Horn for baring it all!

The final short horror film “Sweets“, written and directed by David Gregory, was my favorite story because it really nauseated me the most, from the color of the camera lens filter and the gross amount of food and candy used in each shot.The premise of the story revolves around two lovers, Estelle (Lindsay Goranson, PLAGUE TOWN) and Greg (Guilford Adams), and the fallout of one of the two in the relationship. The story is a break-up story at heart, full of vivid colors when seeing flashbacks of the couple during their happy moments, and a putrid hue and camera lensing when the relationship starts to rot and go bad.

Theater Bizarre Having seen Gregory’s PLAGUE TOWN, I had a feeling that Gregory was going to use some extremely visually stunning set sequences that would utilize the look and feel of the theme of the Grand Guignol. The look really has a theater look to the film. I loved the whole look and color schemes used throughout. I was shocked that I didn’t even notice the small role that Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES, SHIVERS) had in the film, playing the role of Mikela Da Vinci, and this final sequence in the film, in which Antonia (Jessica Remmers, SAVANNA, GOTHIC VAMPIRES FROM HELL) meets Estelle (Goranson) for dinner at this surreal restaurant, resembling a very swanky and douchey joint that reeks of being a status symbol and full of trendy, sociolites–or in the case of this film: sociopaths.

I have met the director, David Gregory (runs SEVERN FILMS and has directed countless documentaries and mini-features on horror films), and he is a fascinating individual to chat with (very down-to-Earth) and a true fan of horror, cult, and exploitation films. I think he has grown as a filmmaker with his segment “Sweets” (grown in fictitious filmmaking and not non-fiction because his documentaries are already incredible) and I look forward to more work from Gregory in the future.

David’s visual style was mind-blowing, probably the most interesting use of colors, lighting, and style out of all of the short horror stories within THE THEATER BIZARRE. I think one has to get past some of the slower points in the film and the stories and appreciate the technical aspects to many of the films. I felt that the second half of stories in the film (“The Accident“, “Vision Stains“, and “Sweets“) were the strongest entries in THE THEATRE BIZARRE and I feel were my personal favorites, but overall the dvd as a whole works and was enjoyable to watch, if not only for varying degrees and styles of directing brought together for the project.

The extra-features on the film include some wonderful commentaries with directors, actors, actresses, and producers involved with the projects that are very insightful and resourceful to listen to. There also are some interviews with some of the directors including David Gregory (whose idea was the genesis of this project), Buddy Giovinazzo, and Jeremy Kasten, some behind-the-scenes, and the film’s trailer.

I recommend THE THEATER BIZARRE mostly for the second-half of filmmaking within the disc, as these short films were my favorites. I felt that the first few stories’ story-lines kind of dragged, sometimes only the few splashes of blood or gore peeking my interest. If one can get past the first few stories, I think they will be pleasantly surprised with the stories, style, and creativity of the short films.

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