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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #165

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Number of Views: One
Release Date:  July 16, 2011 (Fantasia), May 9, 2012 (France)
Sub-Genre:  Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States/France/Canada
Running Time: 114 minutes
Directors:  Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Producers: Nicco Ardin, John Cregan, Carl Daft,  Gesine Giovinazzo-Todt, David Gregory, Jacqui Knapp, Victoria Sanchez Mandryk , Caroline Piras, Jean-Pierre Putters, Michael Ruggiero, Kirsten Sohrauer, Alexandra Spector
Screenplay: Zach Chassler, Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris, Emiliano Ranzani, Buddy Giovinazzo, John Esposito, Douglas Buck, Karim Hussain, David Gregory
Special Make-up Effects: Jerami Cruise, Brian Kinney, C.J. Goldman
Special Effects: Marcus Koch, Melissa Lyon Low
Visual Effects: Stacy Davidson, Bobby Hacker, Marcus Koch, Jim Kunz, Renaud Quilichini
Cinematography: Eduardo Fierro, John Honoré, Karim Hussain, Michael Kotschi
Score: Simon Boswell, Susan DiBona, Pierre Marchand, Mark Raskin
Editing: Robert Bohrer, Douglas Buck, Maxx Gillman, Pauline Pallier
Studios: Severin Films, Metaluna Productions, Nightscape Entertainment, Quota Productions
Distributors: W2 Media, Severin Films, Image Entertainment
Stars:  Udo Kier, Virginia Newcomb, James Gill, Kaniehtiio Horn, Victoria Maurette, Shane Woodward, Lena Kleine, Catriona MacColl, Elissa Dowling, Erin Marie Hogan, Erica Rhodes, Lorry O’Toole, Lindsay Goranson, Jessica Remmers, Jeff Dylan Graham, Halfbreed Billy Gram, Tom Savini, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Rachelle Glait, Imogen Haworth, Tree Carr

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Nancy Drew The Haunted Carousel

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Anybody here familiar with the legendary Parisian playhouse Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol? It’s some creepy-assed shit I can tell you. Over the 65 years it ran, it specialized in naturalistic horror shows, many of which were amoral and visceral in the extreme. Some folk would even go as far as crediting the entire splatter genre to these frankly unsettling works. So you can imagine my delight when firing up six-piece anthology The Theatre Bizarre for the first time and realizing that Théâtre Guignol provided the connecting framework for the half-dozen deliciously dark vignettes. ‘This has to be far more fun than watching six of the Puppet Master movies in a back-to-bath marathon’ I thought and got cozy in my seat like the tragic Enola Penny.

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Enola becomes mesmerized by a seemingly secluded theatre which mysteriously opens in her neighborhood one night as she passes. Once inside she is given her own private performance courtesy of our Guignol or animatronic master of ceremonies if you like. The marionette (played by Udo Kier) proceeds to raise the curtain on a half-dozen macabre tales of terror and Enola sits there looking more and more disparaged as each story unfurls. Running at a little under two hours in length, The Theatre Bizarre bears six succinct fragments, three more cynical entries which adhere affectionately to the Grand Guignol template and three considerably less so. Like Enola, I just couldn’t bring myself to so much as blink, such was the dark anticipation.

Mother of Toads

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Our opening vignette is more Lovecraftian in tone than anything else. Loosely based on a supernatural horror fable by Clark Ashton Smith, it features a sightseeing young American couple who go off in search of a Necrinomicon and instead find the frog spawn of Satan. As opening attention-grabber it is a curious choice but not an entirely unsuccessful one as it features some rather unsettling imagery nestled in amongst the lush vistas of the Pyrenees.

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Problem is, twenty minutes really isn’t long enough to explore the concept with enough detail and it feels over before we can even say “ribbit.” Despite its shortfalls however, it does feature a ghoulish turn from Catriona MacColl as the necromancer they fast regret making the acquaintance of and the make-up effects are suitably slimy. Also, there’s a muddy-looking filter used which heightens the dread considerably so Mother of Toads is by no means a failure.

Mother of Toads Judgement: 6/10

I Love You

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Buddy Giovinazzo’s segment is a bleak tale involving a neurotic man desperately clinging onto his duplicitous lover as she commences crushing his heart into the tiniest of smithereens. Tired of his asphyxiating actions, she begins politely but gradually becomes ground down until the real truth about her reasons for leaving become clear to him.

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There are a number of reasons why this particular piece resonated with me. Firstly it’s all shot in one location, a pallid whitewashed apartment which perfectly reflects her clinical approach. Secondly the performances are rather grandiose from Suzan Anbeh and especially Andre Hennicke, who captures his character’s impetuous nature with some gusto.

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It is, in fact, the sting in the tale that really packs the kidney punch here, and it culminates in what has to be the most unromantic throat slice ever committed to celluloid, complete with terminal gargles and wide open glugging wound. There’s nothing particularly ingenious about the way this ties up otherwise but the first-rate execution ensures it leaves its mark.

I Love You Judgement: 8/10

Wet Dreams

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I find it rather ironic that after witnessing such a majestic throat slice the name Tom Savini pops up on the screen, closely followed by the man himself as he decides to stand both sides of the lens for his serving. The first thing that smacks is the visual style as it instantly calls to mind 80s TV horror such as Freddy’s Nightmares and Friday The 13th: The Series. I presume this was intentional on his part and it kind of suits the mood I suppose.

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It’s an idiosyncratic blend of comedy, grotesque imagery and the erotic which centers around another unsatisfied wife. B-Queen Debbie Rochon gives a spiteful turn as the nightmare maker and Savini does his utmost as her husband’s less than honorable shrink. It’s painting by numbers for the most part but is memorable for the gruesome FX of Fred Vogel and co. at Toe Tag who supply the sausages, so to speak as she goes all Boxing Helena on his sorry ass. Note to self, thank the heavens each dawn that I wake with eyelids.

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Wet Dreams Judgement: 6/10

The Accident

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Now this is the reddest herring I ever did see. Quite what Douglas Buck’s contribution has to do with bizarre is anyone’s guess and it feels hopelessly misplaced having any inclusion. Saying that, it may well be the most accomplished piece of film-making in the entire package and is pretty much impeccable throughout its brief stay.

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It takes an almost meditational look at death through the eyes of a child and explores the fragility of life with an ethereal beauty seldom seen in horror cinema. It’s not suited to the package in the slightest and would have been better suited to The ABCs of Death but remains a startlingly effective and genuinely moving piece of cinema which deserves to be seen by all. It’s not my personal favorite here, not even top three, but it is undoubtedly the best.

The Accident Judgement: 9/10

Vision Stains

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I feel for Karim Hussain having to follow that little cat amongst the pigeons but he somehow manages it, whilst steering the ship firmly back on course for the bizarre. It introduces us to an unhinged scribe who injects fluid extracted from her vagabond victims’ peepers into her own to access their final flashing thoughts for the purpose of her journals. It all adds up to a wonderfully melancholic addition.

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First things first, how are you with eyes? If at all squeamish, then you may want to skip past Hussain’s chapter. Anything to do with optics makes my blood freeze but, Keeper being the sick little puppy that he is, it just makes it all the more compulsive. Zombie Flesh Eaters, Anguish, Evil Dead Trap, Hostel and now Vision Stains, five reasons why I still haven’t gotten my eyes tested.

Vision Stains Judgement: 8/10

Sweets

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This is where the wheels fall off the sanity wagon and we plunge headlong into downright debauchery. Told through the guzzling of confectionary, it features yet another hapless douche-canoe about to receive a heart stomping courtesy of a voracious vixen with various issues. Guilford Adams knocks it clear from the park as Greg, a sniveling non-entity who its impossible not to empathize with.

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Like the contorted lovechild of La Grande Bouffe and Delicatessen, it all culminates in a hellish banquet or Greg’s last supper to be exact. Anyone familiar with the shunting scene from Brian Yuzna’s schlock masterpiece Society will know what to expect and, whilst not quite reaching its heights of depravity, this does a fairly astute job of rounding things off.

Sweets Judgement: 7/10

Framing Segments

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I shall conclude with the framing segments, which weave through the six vignettes and tie that shit up like an Elizabethan corset. My lips shall remain pursed on this occasion but I will state this with exactitude. Amicus aside, this is possibly the finest wraparound of any anthology I can recall, bar none. Kier is exquisite as the puppet-like host and Virginia Newcomb on the money as Enola but it is the suffocating menace of these punctuations that traverses deepest under our skin.

Framing Segments Judgement: 10/10

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The Theatre Bizarre is uneven, nay all over the place, but the fact that its wraparound is so utterly ceremonious holds the rickety boards together. At times it is almost art-house and others it is all about the copious splatter. Either way it turns, it does manage to hold your attention throughout its two-hour stay and that has been the Achilles heel of so many anthologies, again Amicus excluded. With the risk of sounding like a walking cliché, it’s a curate’s piece. Peter Cushing couldn’t have said it better himself.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Rating: 5/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: What starts with toad jism swiftly turns to fried tallywacker, butchered venison, appendages ripped from their stumps, eyeballs pierced by intravenous needles, food fight disembowelments and, last but first, that godawful throat gash. If I close my eyes I can still hear the gargles.

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One thought on “The Theatre Bizarre (2011)

  1. Oh keeper, I have got to see this!! When you mix art house and horror together this lady is in heaven!! It must be my sick mind!! LOL I haven’t even heard of this one so thanks to you, I will be in heaven for 2 hrs!! Muahhh! You’re the bees knees!! 🙂 Xoxo

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