Review: The Theatre Bizarre, starring Udo Kier

The Theatre Bizarre, starring Udo Kier
6 10

PLOT: A woman is drawn to an abandoned theater, where she is soon subjected to a series of unnerving stories.

REVIEW: Anthologies are making a comeback. Encouraging news for those of us whose brains were infested early with twisted tales from crypts, darksides and other dimensions - though the news isn't altogether good. Recent efforts like LITTLE DEATHS, CHILLERAMA, DEADTIME STORIES have plagued us with unimaginative, subpar storytelling, giving credence to the idea that a movie broken up into mini easy-to-digest yarns is a lost art...

So here's THE THEATRE BIZARRE, which offers us six tales with one wrap-around story; seven directors in total. In terms of style and subject matter, flick acts like a combination of "Tales from the Crypt" and Showtime's sleazy, long-forgotten series "The Hunger". Most of the stories have a sexual bent, and there's an emphasis on adultery and revenge. And while the directors aren't necessarily household names, even for horror fans, they're varied enough to offer up some different flavors on well-worn horror themes.

Jeremy Kasten's "The Theatre Bizarre" - which is the anthology's framing story - shows a strange young woman wander into an abandon theater, where she is subsequently the audience to a creaky puppetman (Udo Kier, who else?) and his stories of murder, madness and... well, you know the format. Kasten makes the most out of his obvious love for the "grand guignol" (previously explored in his WIZARD OF GORE) with a vivid color palette and eerie set decoration. And as far as narrators go, Kier's "Peg Poett" is a sufficiently unnerving creation. It's just too bad there isn't a satisfying conclusion.

In Richard Stanley's "The Mother of Toads", an American couple vacationing in France get involved with a gypsy woman with slimy consequences. The story is short and sticky, but without much surprise or payoff. It seems Stanley (HARDWARE) wants to hatch an icky Lovecraftian creature here, but there is nothing especially compelling about the story's amphibian villain.

In Buddy Giovinazzo's (COMBAT SHOCK) compelling, dramatic "I Love You", a German man becomes unhinged when he discovers that his heartless wife is leaving him. No points for originality on this one, but the two main actors give rather good performances, and the overall piece is effective and starkly artistic.

In Tom Savini's (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) "Wet Dreams", an unfaithful husband suffering from bizarre, Freudian dreams learns too late that crossing his wife will turn out to be a nightmare. Again, an unoriginal story is boosted a bit by some energetic direction and, (naturally, considering this is Tom Savini at the helm) a few ghoulish moments of grotesque make-up. If nothing else, this will make the cheating bastards out there think twice about fucking over their better halves.

In Douglas Buck's dreamy and disorienting "The Accident", a young girl learns some cruel life lessons after witnessing a bloody mishap on a country road. Perhaps the most tantalizing of the tales, it's also the shortest - unfortunate since it's quite clear that Buck (SISTERS remake) has something interesting up his sleeve here but isn't able to spill it out in the short time allowed...

In Karim Hussain's (ASCENSION) clumsy "Vision Stains", a woman gets off on people's memories by inserting them into her eyeball with a hypodermic needle (or something); a pretentious, under-cooked drama, this one is easily the worst of the lot.

David Gregory's (PLAGUE TOWN) candy-coated "Sweets", a surreal nightmareworld is the setting of a very harsh break-up. Though "Sweets" is visually interesting, it's builds no momentum and contains no one worth investing time in, so it's a meager treat, at best.

The overall effect of THE THEATRE BIZARRE is a very mixed one. None of the segments really leave an impression afterward, but there's a handful of memorable visuals sprinkled throughout, resulting in a that is more or less enjoyable. Production value varies throughout (to say that some of the segments are more professionally realized than others is an understatement), but the actors are all up to the task of interpreting the shaky material, so even the less-than-stellar entries have life to them. Until they don't...

Extra Tidbit: THE THEATRE BIZARRE opens in limited release on JANUARY 27th.



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