Main cast: Udo Kier (Peg Poett), Virginia Newcomb (Enola Penny), Catriona MacColl (Mere Antoinette), Shane Woodward (Martin), Victoria Maurette (Karina), André Hennicke (Axel), Suzan Anbeh (Mo), Debbie Rochon (Carla), Tom Savini (Dr Maurey), James Gill (Donnie), Lena Kleine (The Mother), Melodie Simard (The Daughter), Kaniehtiio Horn (The Writer), Lindsay Goranson (Estelle), Guilford Adams (Greg), Lynn Lowry (Mikela Da Vinci), Jessica Remmers (Antonia)
Directors: Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley, and Jeremy Kasten
On paper, The Theatre Bizarre sounds like a lovely idea. Several directors come together to pay tribute to the legacy of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, which was the place to go for gruesome and macabre plays during the peak of its fame. The theater closed down in 1962, but horror fans and filmmakers who want to appear literate and erudite will always claim to be familiar with or are greatly influenced by the shows that played its heydays. Here, the short horror tales here are meant to be in the vein of the shows that made the theatre so famous: cruel, nasty, shocking, and completely amoral.
Jeremy Kasten, whose repertoire ranges from gore to Zac Efron, directs the framing segments Theatre Guignol. Enola Penny is a young lady who frantically sketches and paints the theater in a room just across from it. One night, the place mysteriously reopens, with the lights switched on and all, so she just has to walk in and take a seat. She then watches as the puppet Peg Poett begins to “talk” and “introduces” each story, played out by other puppets on stage but of course we get to see the versions that are acted out by real people and CGI. Seriously, is there any horror movie that Udo Kier won’t appear in? Then again, that’s why he’s such a gem – he easily steals the show here. If you have seen any horror anthology stories on TV or the big screen involving animated dolls, puppets, mannequins, etc that come to life, you won’t be caught by surprise by the final framing segment.
The first story is Mother of Toads, a nearly faithful adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith’s story of the same time, only this time it’s been brought to the present day by Richard Stanley. If you have read the story, you will know that the highlight of the story is a poor sod being drugged and then raped by a female toad-monster creature. Well, the lucky fellow here is the American tourist Martin, who becomes fascinated by the many cultural elements (fertility statues, etc) he encounters in a rustic part of France. His girlfriend Karina is taken by a pair of earrings sold by the mysterious Mere Antoinette, and Martin realizes that the earrings carry the elder sign, a rune associated to all the dark and gruesome things created by HP Lovecraft. Mere shares that she has the original Necronomicon – the infamous book containing the details of these dark and gruesome things – in her place, and invites Martin to come over and take a look. Martin, apparently an anthropologist, just has to agree. Frog rape commencing in 3… 2…
One very obvious thing that ties all the stories in this together is that the people they pick to act in them are all uniformly gorgeous, and this one is no different. Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette are very easy on the eyes, hence the camera zooming in on Ms Maurette’s rear end while she’s swimming as well as giving the audience a peek at Mr Woodward’s plump rear end and, if you look closely, his chubby too. God bless those who believe in equal opportunity sexual objectification.
Unfortunately, this story is tonally off. The crux of the story is seduction and rape by an eldritch evil, and hence, the tone should be a mix of eroticism and horror. However, Catriona MacColl plays her character like an army sergeant barking out her lines in military precision, and her creepy-horny old woman character is more of a cartoon hag than anything else. The frog monster is more hilarious than repulsive, and the rape scene is more unintentionally hilarious than anything else. Mr Woodward has very nice cake though.
I Love You, directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, is about a married French couple Axel and Mo. Mo reveals that she has been systematically cheating on Axel with everybody, including her brother-in-law, and she had also aborted a baby or two along the way. Oh, and this time she’s really leaving him. Don’t feel sorry for Axel, though – as this one unfurls, it becomes evident that he is an abusive control freak who insists on controlling everything Mo does as well as the people she sees and talks to, and each time she tries to leave him, he will stage suicide or come down with sudden health problems to manipulate her into staying. As Mo continues to try to hurt him and he continues to try to tighten his reins on her, there can only be a tragic end to this couple’s married life. This is one story with two detestable characters, and the twist ending is given away by the opening scene, so ugh. Still, this story elicits an emotion from me, even if it’s disgust, so that counts for something – more than what the bulk of the stories here offer me, at least.
Oh, and I love this line:
Your penis and my vagina never liked one another.
Is this how the French talk to one another?
Wet Dreams isn’t as fun as the title suggests. Zombie movie fixture Tom Savini serves up a story that has Donnie being haunted by dreams of his wife Carla either sporting some scissor-like thing between her legs that cut off his pee-pee or cutting off his pee-pee in the more conventional way, cooking it, and serving it to him for breakfast. Well, Donnie soon turns out to be another abusive husband that also cheats on his wife regularly, and his shrink can only offer words of wisdom such as, “Tell me, when did you last rape your mother?” No wonder everything is so messed up in Donnie’s head. This one is a pretty pointless, throwaway episode designed solely to show off some Saw-like scenes close to its tail end. A constantly half- or near-naked James Gill is very nice to look at, however.
I’m not sure how The Accident, directed by Douglas Buck, ended up here as there is nothing cruel or sadistic about it. This is a beautiful, poetic, even heartbreaking short episode about a mother conversing gently to her young daughter about death. The young girl is already asking questions about her grandmother’s death, and witnessing an accident which has a man getting killed only lead to more questions. This one brings on the feels without becoming too corny or sentimental, painting a bittersweet picture of a young girl’s innocence slowly eroding as she tries to make sense of matters such as life and death as well as a mother’s gentle efforts to reassure the girl and let her remain innocent a little longer.
Next is Vision Stains, directed by Karim Hussain, which is also the most stupid story here. A woman, simply called the Writer, apparently can’t dream, but she discovers that she can “see” other people’s dreams if she can extract the fluids from their eyeballs and inject these fluids into her own eyeballs. She then records these dreams in a book… just because? Naturally, she targets other women because apparently women dream more vividly or something. And then, she decides that she may get her jollies more if she extracts dreams from an unborn child’s eyes. Instead of ripping out fetuses from a pregnant woman’s belly like any halfway reasonable shock-and-gore tale would, the writer somehow just stabs a needle into a pregnant woman’s belly. Maybe she has powers that let her know that she’s hitting the fetus’s eyes? She then for some reason gets naked and… oh god, I can’t go on. Let’s just say this one is made from pure failure.
Finally, there is Sweets, directed by David Gregory. This one spotlights food fetish – more specifically, sitophilia, which sees some people getting off from the act of eating, and how this fetish can easily crosses the line into vorarephilia, which is basically about getting off from acts of cannibalism. Here, a very pathetic fellow named Greg can’t take it when Estelle decides to leave him. She is the one who introduced him into the joys of gorging on food, and he refuses to accept no when he keeps pestering her to not break their relationship off. So she decides to introduce him to some more of her friends, specifically those at Mikela Da Vinci’s gourmet club… as their dinner. Can you blame her? Greg is really annoying here, and it’s not quite a shock to discover that the actor moves on to play a clown on an episode of Glee after this. This one makes the mistake of treating its characters as fools and freaks to be laughed at, and hence this isn’t a horror story as much as it is just an excuse to point and laugh at weirdos. Were not for the previous story, this one would have been the worst waste of time of the lot. At least Vision Stains has nudity, this one is just turd all over.
The Theatre Bizarre is an uneven horror anthology flick, although the ample amount of nudity and pretty does help distract me from the crappier moments. What can I say, I’m only human. I’m giving this one one oogie more than it deserves due to the really excellent The Accident, but I would recommend giving this one a skip unless you really want to look at naked or near-naked pretty people getting done in in ways that are more eye-rolling than creepy.