Toronto After Dark 2011: ‘The Theatre Bizarre’ an honourable attempt to satisfy a quick horror fix
Douglas Buck (segment The Accident)
Buddy Giovinazzo (segment I Love You)
David Gregory (segment Sweets)
Karim Hussain (segment Vision Stains)
Jeremy Kasten (framing segments)
Tom Savini (segment Wet Dreams)
Richard Stanley (segment The Mother Of Toads)
If you love horror and suffer from A.D.D. then you already agree that horror anthologies are a great way to pass the night. Films such as Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Trick ‘r Treat have gained tremendous notoriety for their smorgasbord of terror and fast scares. The Theatre Bizarre may not be in the same league as these gems, but it’s an honourable attempt to satisfy a quick horror fix.
The film opens with a curious woman entering an abandoned theatre. Inside, she sees a human-sized puppet (Udo Kier) summoning her to the front of the stage. After she dutifully complies, the puppet begins his eerie marionette show, which introduces all six of the film’s bizarre tales.
Director Richard Stanley’s Mother of Toads follows the story of a couple travelling in the French Pyrenees, where they meet a seemingly frail old woman, who offers to share her town’s secrets. As a budding anthropologist, Martin (Shane Woodward) can’t pass up the opportunity, but his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette) would rather spend the day at the spa. Their trusting nature would turn out to be their downfall after the old woman reveals her deadly amphibian alter-ego. Mother of Toads is a weak opener to the film. The story is uninspiring, the pace is slow and the protagonists are dull. And unless you’re terrified of toads, you will scarcely feel a chill.
Director Buddy Giovinazzo’s I Love You thankfully picks up the pace. A paranoid husband is devastated when his disillusioned wife tells him that she’s running off with another man. Desperate to hold onto her affections, he showers her with I love you’s and begs for another chance. But her mind is made up. After pity sex, she permanently severs the relationship by coldly recounting her frequent infidelities. Later, a knock at the door signals the arrival of her lover. As he watches them drive away at the window, the husband’s heartbreak quickly turns to hysteria. Did his wife and her lover really leave together or is that really blood on his hands? Giovinazzo’s excellent script is delightfully brought to life with the electrifying performances by lead actors Andre Hennicke and Suzan Anbeh. But this is a horror-anthology, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this soap-opera – filled with drama, sex and betrayal – ends very badly for everyone.
Director Tom Savini’s Wet Dreams centres on Donnie, a cheating husband, who suffers from having violent nightmares against his innocent wife, Carla (played by scream queen Debbie Rochon). Despite regular meetings with his therapist (Savini in a cameo role), his dreams continue to get more torturous and out of control. But Carla isn’t so innocent after all, and when she has dreams of her own, things quickly go awry for Donnie. Wet Dreams is a dreadful story that sadly stalls the wonderful momentum created by I Love You.
Director Douglas Buck’s The Accident is an engaging featurette about a young girl who must confront the realities of death after she witnesses a dying motorist at the side of a road. Buck’s story has the child come to an epiphany after asking her mother a series of innocent but relevant questions in the car. The Accident plays like a gruesome fairy tale.
The squeamish should avoid Director Karim Hussain’s Vision Stains at all costs. A woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) kills unsuspecting homeless people for the purpose of stealing their memories and writing their biography. How she acquires their memory will shock many. Using a syringe, she extracts the fluid from their dead eye and injects it into her own. The chilling operation causes the girl to convulse uncontrollably as she sees their entire life flash before her. But curiosity gets the best of her after she extracts the fluid from a pregnant mother’s fetus, which has evil plans of its own. Vision Stains’ cringe-factor may be high with each succeeding eye puncture, but unfortunately its payoff isn’t nearly as penetrating.
Director David Gregory’s Sweets is a strange and perverse tale of a couple exploring their fetish of incorporating sugar and sex. During their happier days, Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) and Greg (Guildford Adams) gorged on cake, cookies and ice cream while in the heat of passion, but Estelle wants to break up and Greg can’t cope. He cries incessantly and when she can’t take it anymore, she takes him back…on one bitter condition. Sweets is a strange selection to close this anthology. Save for the hilarious performance by Adams, there’s nothing memorable about it – just empty calories.
Theatre Bizarre’s finale brings us back to the abandoned theatre, wherein our favourite puppet has one last twisted surprise for his female guest – a fitting conclusion for an inconsistent anthology.