Title: The Theatre Bizarre
Directors: Jeremy Kasten, Richard Stanley, Buddy Giovinazzo, Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain and David Gregory
Starring: Udo Kier, Catriona MacColl, Virginia Newcomb, Suzan Anbeh, Andre Hennicke, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini, Lena Kleine, Victoria Maurette, Lindsay Goranson, Guilford Adams
Six discrete stories of varying levels of effectiveness come together in “The Theatre Bizarre,” a macabre horror anthology that eschews the laborious weirdness of something like Christopher Landon’s “Burning Palms,” and instead focuses more forthrightly on crafting and sustaining a mood of uneasiness. The main commingled narrative ingredients are genre staples — sex, compulsion, paranoia and obsession — which work well for a movie that doesn’t shy away from gore, but is generally interested in more psychologically rooted fear. If, in the end, “The Theatre Bizarre” suffers from the same main problem that plagues so many anthology efforts — a couple weak entries weighing it down — it still compares relatively favorably to the qualitative mean established by Anchor Bay’s “Masters of Horror” series from a few years back.
The movie’s wrap-around segment introduces a young woman intrigued by what appears to be a long-abandoned theater. Upon entering its vast, empty auditorium and taking a seat, she’s treated to a creepy marionette emcee (Udo Kier) who brings to mind the recent “Saturday Night Live” sketches about animatronic theme park ride figures run amok. Said host introduces a half dozen tales, which span from the French Pyrenees to Berlin and the United States. As she becomes more and more involved in these tales, something strange starts happening to the woman.
The first segment offers up a fairly standard “Book of the Dead”-type story, but the next couple entries are particularly strong, centering on a woman callously breaking up with her meek yet paranoid lover, and a (possibly unfaithful) husband plagued by recurrent dreams of having his penis hacked off. Directors Buddy Giovinazzo and Tom Savini (who also co-stars in his segment) invest in character enough to make these little vignettes pop as nasty, brutish stageplays, while fellow co-director Richard Stanley and others lean more on smoke machines, mock-heat-sensitive camerawork, jump scares and other well-worn tricks from the genre playbook.
Douglas Buck’s offering, “The Accident,” is a misfire, and other stabs at inwardly reflected madness, like director Karim Hussain’s “Vision Stains,” work much less effectively. The fact that these shorts are back-loaded contributes to the movie’s waning hold. Still, “The Theatre Bizarre” rallies with “Sweets,” however, directed by a guy named David Gregory, who is presumably not the same-named, monkey-faced NBC reporter and “Meet the Press” host. Chronicling another female’s break-up with a hapless boyfriend whom she has fattened up with sugary desserts, this segment echoes back to “The Theatre Bizarre”‘s second segment, “I Love You,” but its gleeful dementedness is a fitting cap to an at times deliciously nasty little genre treat. Screening at midnight in various special presentations, “The Theatre Bizarre” will be expanding over the next several weeks. For its trailer and more information on the movie, visit: http://www.w2media.com/theatrebizarre/
Written by: Brent Simon