Friday, November 22, 2013

The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

The Theatre Bizarre is a horror anthology that delivers on its promise of the bizarre and grotesque. There is also a bit of sex and nudity, but don't expect it to be very erotic - the context it is presented in is often too repulsive to enjoy it in the traditional way.

The framing story, in which a tortured artist stumbles into a performance theatre staffed with automatons, effectively introduces the strange atmosphere of the anthology, with the bizarre machinations of the automatons - the leader of which, who is the master of ceremonies, is played by Udo Kier, whose idiosyncratic mannerisms I recognized from the role he played in John Carpenter's episode of Masters of Horror, Cigarette Burns. Said MC seems to have some point to make about watching other people's stories and the artifice of the theatre, but it gets a little chopped up through the interruptions of the various segments of the anthology.

The first of which is titled The Mother of Toads and gets off to a good start. An anthropologist with an interest in the occult meets an old gypsy in the French countryside, and discovers that she possesses what she alleges to be a genuine copy of the Necronomicon from H.P. Lovecraft's lore. In it is a creepy diagram of a creature the old woman names the Mother of Toads. But, as is always the case when the Necronomicon shows up in fiction, when the creature itself appears in the story (as you know it must), it doesn't live up to the dramatized illustration. Other than a pretty creepy sex scene, the segment finishes up in a pretty conventional - that is to say, not especially inspired - fashion.

The second segment, I Love You, eschews the supernatural (and to a large part, even the bizarre) for a more down to earth tale of love turned sour. It's actually got a fairly clever twist, in that you start the segment thinking, okay, this guy is a creep, and this girl really needs to get away from him. Then you come to learn that she's not all that innocent, and you actually begin to feel a little sympathy for this guy. Of course, it doesn't end well, and I won't spoil the details, but it's an effectively twisted ending.

Segment number three is titled Wet Dreams, and is directed by special fx guru Tom Savini, who also costars. The story is about a man who keeps having nightmares of being castrated (in one sequence, by what Savini's character - a therapist - describes as a Lovecraftian vagina - thus marking the second direct reference to Lovecraft in this anthology). This segment probably contains the most erotic nudity in the whole anthology, but the sentiment is short-lived, considering the major theme of the segment is genital mutilation. The narrative fucks around a bit with dreams and reality, but in the end it plays out (as you could only imagine, given the subject matter) as a wife's rather conservative (if liberally gruesome) feminist revenge against a cheating husband.

The fourth segment, titled The Accident, hit me from out of nowhere. It's the only segment with zero sex and nudity, and yet it's the strongest one, and it made a powerfully emotional impression on me. It's a very simple story, centered on a discussion of the metaphysics of death, between a little girl and her mother, after witnessing a traumatic motorcycle accident. It's very stark and direct, and yet not without being sensitive. I thought it was beautiful - in that macabre sort of way - and uniquely moving. It's definitely the highlight of the anthology.

Vision Stains is the next segment, and it introduces an intriguing (if not altogether realistic) concept - a woman has discovered that the moments that go flashing by in a person's head in the instant that they die can actually be transferred to another person via an injection of eye fluid. It's an interesting character study, that leads to a chilling climax, if a somewhat mediocre conclusion in comparison. It's also perhaps the most uncomfortable segment in this anthology to watch, what with the drug addiction symbolism and all the needles and syringes (of course, different things squick different people out - whether it's castration or animals suffering, there's something to disturb everyone in this anthology).

The final segment is titled Sweets and is almost certainly the most bizarre segment in the whole anthology. An actor by the name of Guilford Adams does a fantastic job channeling the heartbreak of a man whose girlfriend is coldly breaking up with him, interspersed with scenes of the two of them, during their better days, indulging their sweet tooths to a fetishistic degree. I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to take away from this segment, but the unhealthy obsession on binging and consumption ironically does a stellar job of destroying my would-be appetite. After watching it, I don't want to so much as look at food for weeks.

Not unlike going to watch a freak show, you have to have a peculiar kind of taste to enjoy the stories on the marquee at The Theatre Bizarre, but for the sake of satisfying my curiosity, I don't regret watching it. Expect horror, not a lot of eroticism (unless you have some very unconventional desires), but above all, expect the bizarre - and you shan't be disappointed.

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