Truly Disturbing Horror.)
Do you like Lovecraft inspired horror? How about kinky, body horror?
Are you into horror with a slightly more metaphysical aspect to it? What
about psychological horror? Maybe the kind of art house horror that
goes all out weird and truly mind boggling is more your taste? Are you
into gore? What are your feelings about the emotionally disturbing kind
of horror that reflects on childhood? How do you feel about creepy Udo Kier?
If you’ve answered postively to more than two or three of those
questions, The Theatre Bizarre is for you. If you can’t find one or two
segments that you enjoy in this film, you probably hate horror films.
The various segments of The Theatre Bizarre careen from the somewhat
campy and silly to the downright bizarre and grotesque with screaming
glee. Even the weakest segment, Tom Savini’s Wet Dreams has some great
aspects. Even then, the reason it’s the weakest segment is that it needs
more time to develop the story and characters to their fullest
potential. It’s a great premise, with some great visual presentation,
but it’s a few minutes too short to develop it’s premise thoroughly
enough to pack the maximum punch. It feels like it rushes to its ending a
bit too suddenly. That being said, it’s still a wickedly fun short with
enough shock to make it somewhat effective. It just isn’t quite as
powerful as the premise and the setup promise it could be.
There may be too much of a shift in tone across the different
segments for some people to appreciate the film, because it does make
for a jarring experience. That can also be taken as a strength though,
adding to the sense of disorientation that can work to the advantage of
some films. Here, because of the obvious joy and love the different
creative teams have for each story they’re telling, it’s exhilarating.
As a matter of personal preference, one of my favorite things about
horror and about film in a more general way is that it can tell a
variety of stories and provide a variety of different experiences.
Having the degree of variation crammed into the same ninety minute
running time that The Theatre Bizaree does is something I’ve always
loved in anthology films.
The Mother of Toads segment takes some Lovecraft lore and spins a new
tale with it, throwing in some of the best elements of what has made
old H.P. an icon in horror and literature in general. It also adds a few
elements which weren’t so prominent in most of Lovecraft’s work and
becomes a hallucinogenic romp into the truly weird, and then throws some
great fifties monster movie camp into the mix. It’s the first segment,
and a great way to signal the amount of strange mayhem the audience is
about to see.
I Love You has a more conventional conceit at it’s center, but
approaches the story from a fresh perspective. It’s the story of a
couple who’ve been driven apart by jealousy and a kind of emotional
reliance that is suffocating for the person who’s the object of it. The
fun is in watching these two people at the end of that relationship,
heading toward an inevitably bad conclusion. It plays with time,
perspective and the audience perception of the events in an interesting
way. The final reveal proves to be more conventional than the rest of
the story, but it’s still fun getting there and both of the actors give
performances that are interesting and entertaining enough to avoid it
being a let down.
Visual Stains is a metaphysical head spinner. It’s brutal and
disturbing, without coming across as pure exploitation. The premise is
awesomely strange and is horrifying all by itself. A young woman is
chronicling the stories of other women who’ve been cast aside by
society. How she goes about getting those stories is what makes this
segment a shocker. Let’s just say forbidden knowledge is forbidden for a
reason, and things get weirder with each passing minute. This may be
the most truly fresh and different story in the whole film. It’s even
more interesting to think about in connection with some of the big
stories in the news right now.
The Accident might be my personal favorite, because it is so
different from the other segments. It takes a significant risk in that
it doesn’t present a horror story in the way we normally think about
horror. Instead it explores an idea that is in many ways much more
simple, that just about anyone can identify with in some way, and
examines a part of the horror of real life from an interesting
perspective. It is more or less about a child’s realization of what
mortality is and that it means everything eventually dies, including
one’s self and loved ones. It’s oddly tender and lyrical, especially in
the middle of the rest of the segments, but it’s definitely an
interesting take on what horror is. It’s also the most visually
beautiful segment, and doesn’t run away from being it’s existential
roots. For the audiences who have a particular taste for the more
visceral, hardcore and less intellectual or emotional kind of horror,
it’s going to be a let down. I can’t help but respect the chances their
taking by putting it in the middle of the these other segments, and I
hope audiences might gain a bit more of an open mind to this kind of
storytelling as a result.
The last of the segments, Sweets, is completely surreal. There’s an
almost John Waters vibe to it that I really appreciated. This and The Accident are almost tied for my vote as best segment, for reasons that
couldn’t be more different. It runs full speed into the kind of art
house horror territory that most other anthologies avoid like the
plague. It’s not going to be the most popular of the segments,
definitely, but it’s as good as any of the others. It establishes a
deeply uncomfortable, weird, creepy vibe from the first shot and gets
even stranger over it’s length. It ends with a funny, incisive jab at
the culture of “being cool” and the metaphor isn’t so heavy that it
feels smothering, but also isn’t so vague that it takes much after
thought to grasp it. It’s funny, gore filled and just… weird.
The framing segments, with Udo Kier as the M.C. of The Theatre
Bizarre that the film takes it’s name from are pretty great too. The
separate segments of the film are presented as stories being told in The
Theatre. Using this kind of device as the way to wrap all of the
stories together is part of what gives them the breadth and variation
they have. In that circumstance, there could be stories about anything.
And Udo Kier in creepy, almost mannequin like make-up is even more
creepy than Udo Kier normally is. He seems to really relish the M.C.
role too, which helps to sell it.
All in all, The Theatre Bizaree is a surreal adventure in anthology
horror. It’s fun, smart, entertaining, diverse and well made. If all
horror anthologies had been able to keep the level of quality throughout
their segments that this one has, we wouldn’t be experiencing a
resurgence of the anthology, because they’d never have gone away.