What the hell happened to American horror? Remember when mainstream horror films actually offered either originality or creativity in the way victims died? Now we're practically spoon fed the same formula over and over and it doesn't help that more than half of the horror films getting the green light or being released in theaters are a remake of a film you love. The 70s, 80s, 90s, and even early 00s in some cases were a fantastic time for horror that seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. The horror genre is no stranger to the anthology formula, but there's something about The Theatre Bizarre that manages to capture the atmosphere of certain horror films you know and love.
Tales From the Crypt, Dead of Night, Creepshow, Trick 'r Treat, and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie are a few films The Theatre Bizarre will either remind you of and/or it pays homage to. To bridge the story together, a woman is drawn to the worn down looking theater next door. Once inside, she's treated to a show hosted by a man acting like a living wind-up toy (played by Udo Kier). Just the framing segments alone are extremely creepy. The make-up, the way the people on stage move, and the way eyes are painted on the top of their eyelids. It's a bit unsettling in the best of ways. There are six stories in the film's nearly two hour runtime:
"The Mother of Toads" is one of the weakest. A couple takes a vacation in France basically in the middle of nowhere. While they're browsing shops, they meet an elderly woman who draws the man, Martin (Shane Woodward) into her home with The Necronomicon. The tea she gives him puts him under her spell and all hell breaks loose from there. This is probably a lot like the movie Frogs. The multi-colored toad vision is pretty lame. The best scene comes at the beginning where Martin and his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette) are driving through the countryside. The shot obviously pays tribute to the opening of The Shining. I was left with what felt like the punch line to a really bad joke at the end of the story. "Don't you hate it when you get really drunk and you wake up next to a giant multi-titted toad?"
"I Love You" is the other fairly timid story and the one that features the stiffest acting. A man wakes up in his bathroom with blood everywhere. He calls his therapist, who's with his wife that he hasn't been able to get a hold of for days. She comes home only to tell him that she's leaving him. "I Love You" is basically an R-rated drama until the last two minutes where everything is turned upside down. The scenes that stick out the most are the ones of Andre Hennicke unconscious in his bathroom. Everything is white; the floor, the walls, his clothes. The only color in the scene is from his blood. It's not bad, deserves some credit for a solid buildup to its climax, and is at least a bit more threatening than toads.
"Wet Dreams" directed by and co-starring the legendary Tom Savini is up next. A man has very vivid dreams that usually involve his wife castrating him and feeding his severed member to him during breakfast. It's a pretty decent stab at a mind-bending horror story. It's no Inception, but it doesn't really have the opportunity to be and in the end has no reason to be as in depth as that as its story progression is just fine.
"The Accident" is another slow burning story. You can pretty much guess what it's about from the title. The way the deer acts is horrific enough, but what sells the entire story is the haunting music and the facial expression of the biker. The little girl asks some questions about death, which her mom gives really stupid answers to (seriously, a good zombie?).
"Vision Strains" is easily the most original and creative story of the film. A woman targets homeless women and addicts and kills them. In their last breaths and as their life flashes before their eyes, the woman injects their eye fluid into her own and basically experiences their life story. She writes it all down in an attempt to learn everything the world has to offer. A serial killer with purpose is something that doesn't come along very often.
"Sweet Dreams" rounds out the set. This one was a bit hard to watch. There are some really disturbing fetishes going on with this one all involving gluttony, sweets, and overeating. It's downright disgusting at times and it has the goriest ending of the bunch. It puts a pretty interesting twist on The Last Supper, as well.
It's not that The Theatre Bizarre isn't flawed. Like most horror movies, there's plenty of bad to go along with the good as it suffers from weak writing with actors in certain stories that don't have that natural flow that the rest of the cast does. One could also argue that only half of the movie really leaves a long-lasting impression. To be honest though, there were bits and pieces of every story that spoke to the horror fan in me in ways I haven't felt in years. Like a classic horror film, it's like you have to sit through some lameness to delve into the greatness buried deep within its core. Nauseating, phantasmagorical, and discomforting, The Theatre Bizarre is pure, gory, blood-soaked madness at its finest that will give horror fans the feeling of being a kid locked in a candy store for two blissful hours.
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