Sunday 14 January 2018

The Theatre Bizarre

They Ate Her

The Theatre Bizarre
USA/France/Canada 2011
Directed by Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Blu Ray Zone B (Germany)

Warning: Yeah, you know what? This review is going to have some minor spoilers in it otherwise... well, otherwise I won’t have too much I can talk about.

The Theatre Bizarre is a film I ordered from a different country because I’d heard enough about it that I wanted to see it on a crisp Blu Ray transfer and, in the UK, it only seems to be around on DVD. Well, mission accomplished in terms of the transfer but, alas, it’s really not the film I was hoping it would be. The real trouble with anthology movies is that they tend to be quite hit and miss in the effectiveness of their stories, especially when they are traditionally, just like this one, put together by different directors. I’d have to say of this one that, on the whole, I found it more miss than hit and pretty much weak tea when it came to delivering on the shocks and scares normally associated with a horror movie. Likewise, it’s title leads to expectations of something truly unusual and, while it does have a few moments which I’ll highlight in a little while... again, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of bizarre imagery or story content available.

The film opens quite strongly with some nice credits leading into the first excerpt of a framing story by Jeremy Kasten. A lady doing frantic sketches and artworks of the titular theatre across the street from her window feels the call of the place and goes to the rundown and, seemingly closed, theatre. She gains entry and is greeted by a strange kind of mannequin puppet which, even from the start, is somebody who you can tell is Udo Kier. He’s got a fake head which looks like a rough, claymation impression of him and he mechanically introduces a series of mannequins, as the lady takes her seat and watches... each mannequin leading onto a segment of the film telling their story.

The first story, The Mother Of Toads, is directed by the great director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and horror and giallo fans would probably twig right away that the clue as to the style of this segment is in the title. Yeah, that’s right. This whole segment is a little homage to the horror films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava and involves a man’s quest when he is offered a chance to go and view a copy of the infamous Necronomicon at the house of a lady whom his girlfriend buys some earrings from on a market stall. Anyone familiar with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos will, of course, recognise the Necronomicon as a notorious fictional book within his writings... an evil book which has been referenced by many, many artists, writers, movie makers and musicians over the years.

It has to be said that The Mother Of Toads is easily the best segment of the entire movie and it has some beautiful camerawork such as an amazing shot of the canopy of trees of a forest reflected in a car windscreen from above, following the director’s little homage to the famous ‘road approach’ in Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining. There are also some beautiful, Bava-esque lighting juxtapositions of block colours, perhaps in slightly cooler tones, in certain scenes.

The sequence is not a masterpiece but it’s a great contribution to the film and ends up with a naked toad woman, mucus sex and aggressive toad murders. I kinda wished they’d saved this segment until the end of the picture because at least then it would have gone out with a high. Lucio Fulci enthusiasts might like to know that this segment also features a performance by Catriona MacColl.

Following another part of the framing story, where Udo’s mannequin starts to look less artificial and a little more... um... Udoish, we have the second story, I Love You. This one is filmed with a more clinically neutral palette but with big set pieces of goriness to offset that. It’s really a very disappointing story of a guy and a girl breaking up because she is leaving him and having an affair and... yeah... nothing new here and just a little tedious, I thought. It does, however, have the epic line... “Your penis and my vagina never really liked each other.”... which brought a smile to the face.

Between the second and third segments, Udo’s ‘host’ gets his real eyes.

We then have Wet Dreams, directed by and starring make up and special effects guru Tom Savini, who has been a famous genre fixture both behind and in front of the camera since the mid 1970s. This is the second strongest of the stand alone segments in the movie and involves the story of an abusive man who keeps having bad dreams and drifting from one dream to another. There’s a brilliant dream in this where his naked wife, who he is approaching to have sex, suddenly unleashes these beetle-like pincers from her vagina and bites his cock off. When he ‘wakes up’ to his normal routine, this is also revealed to be a dream as his wife serves him his cock for breakfast. So... it’s an old plot of dreams running like Russian dolls until the final twist. The final twist in these kinds of stories usually involves the person dreaming doing something absolutely terrifying to somebody before discovering that they had actually woken up for real but the end of Savini’s segment has a slightly different kind of reveal. Not necessarily a better one but.... at least it’s different.

The fourth stand alone tale is called The Accident and kind of deals with the loss of innocence of a child as she witnesses death up close for the first time. Alas, there seem to be no horror tropes in this one at all and absolutely no reveal of an ending either. It just kind of drifts along with, I thought, nothing to say.

The fifth story is called Vision Stains and involves a serial killing woman who is going around slowly penetrating people’s eyeballs with her syringe and extracting what she believes to be some kind of spiritual essence from her victims... which she injects right into herself soon after to see what she can learn. Or something like that... the reasons are pretty much the ravings of a deranged mind, to be sure. There are an awful lot of close up shots of people’s eyeballs being penetrated by the syringe in this story. The segment finishes when she kills a pregnant mother, extracts from the fetus inside her and then injects the essence of the baby into her own eyeballs. However, the baby then gets in her head and induces the woman to stab her own eyes out with a screwdriver. She then wanders the earth as a... well... as a blind serial killer, I guess.

The last story in the selection is called Sweets and it’s a very colourful look at a break up of a couple who are very much into eating sweets of all kinds. However, the woman who is leaving her boyfriend has an ulterior motive and... I wish I could say that her intent was fresh and original but, no, the ending of this story has been done to death before, it seemed to me so... yeah, not the strongest story you could have ended on.

And that’s about it. By the end of the film, the twist of the framing segment is revealed but, alas, if you’ve being paying attention to what’s going on in it then I’m afraid it’s not something you wont see coming a mile off. Which is a shame because I really wanted to be surprised by this movie and I even watched it late one night, on my own in the darkness, to add to the atmosphere. Not too much to say about this one though and I would have to say that, while The Theatre Bizarre does demonstrate some artistry and skill in certain places, it’s ultimately not the most interesting film I’ve seen in a while and I genuinely felt the scripting was weak in a lot of places. The directors did their best but the source material does not really seem enough to work with. Okay as a palette cleanser, perhaps, in an all nighter with some more serious or unsettling movies on either side of it... this could be the movie you stick on to have a little break but, as a stand alone experience, it doesn’t get much of a thumbs up from me, I’m afraid.

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