Directed by Various
2011, Canada/USA/France, 108 minutes
Omnibus films tend to appeal mainly to hard-core fans and other filmmakers. That isn’t a bad thing. In the case of The Theatre Bizarre, some of horror’s nuttiest and most demented talents can be just as nutty and demented as they want. If you’re a horror fan, it’s a grab bag of treats; you’ll love some and hate others, but that’s part of the pleasure. If you’re a filmmaker, then The Theatre Bizarre is a twisted little laboratory. After all, experiments are always useful, even if they don’t always work.
“Mother of Toads”
Directed by Richard Stanley
Richard Stanley’s Lovecraft-inspired segment is also the most like a fairy tale. It’s certainly cautionary (don’t trust strange old women who live alone in the woods!), but it’s also creepy in a gross, oozy kind of way. Toads, after all.
“I Love You”
Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo
Psychological horror is difficult to do well, so it helps that Buddy Giovinazzo mixes in elements of emotional trauma and violence. He isn’t trying to be too clever, though: “I Love You” is essentially a realistic conflict between two people (with a third ancillary character) that abides by the classical unities. I found it well-structured and elegant.
Directed by Tom Savini
The master of creative SFX violence and gore, Tom Savini is in top form for “Wet Dreams”, a sick series of violent and gruesome little revenge fantasies. Of course, there is more than just gore going on here. “Wet Dreams” is something of a study in the way characters can inflict pain on each other. Oh, and Savini himself plays a psychiatrist.
Directed by Douglas Buck
“The Accident” stands out in this film for a few reasons; namely, if it played as a short film at a prestigious film festival, you wouldn’t bat an eye. Contemplative and slightly uncomfortable, it is a juxtaposition of a young girl asking her mother questions about the nature of death and a scene where she witnesses a tragic (but unfortunately commonplace) accident resulting in death. It is understated, thoughtful, and charming, in a sad way.
Directed by Karim Hussain
The concept behind Karim Hussain’s segment—of a women who kills people to harvest the vitreous fluid from their eyes, inject it into her own, and thus “see their life flash before their eyes”—is fascinating. However, it doesn’t ever get explored in a satisfactory way. That isn’t to say that the segment ought to have been longer (Hussain mentioned that he harvested the idea from a feature script). Rather, “Vision Stains” doesn’t make the most of the time it has. Couple that with a terrible voice over (the writing and action portions both).
Directed by David Gregory
David Gregory isn’t shy (or subtle) about symbolism. His food fetish extravaganza, at once voluptuous, decadent, and nauseating, disgusted much of its audience. I found its candy motifs and colourful juxtapositions terribly witty, though I would have been fine with segment ending much sooner then it did.
“Theatre Guignol” isn’t an individual segment, but a framing device surrounding the whole film and a series of transition pieces between each of the other segments. I understand why it’s there. Theoretically, anyway. I’m just not sure it should be.
So there it is. The Theatre Bizarre isn’t all great—actually, it’s rather mixed—but that’s the point. Each part is meant to be a risk, and sometimes risks fail. This is a treat for fans and filmmakers. If nothing else, it’s an interesting ride.
– Dave Robson
The 6th Annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs October 20 though 27, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For complete festival info visit www.torontoafterdark.com.