Severin Films, known for restoring and distributing sleazy, erotic, or just plain weird horror films from the 70’s and 80’s like DEVIL HUNTER, BLOODY MOON, and SANTA SANGRE, partnered with French production company Metaluna Productions to create THE THEATRE BIZARRE. The anthology formed with the ideals of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, known for its anthology-like format (five or six plays in one show) and often gory portrayals of horror stories. It’s a fascinating subject to many horror fans, and this film certainly carries that intriguing style with it. The framing story shows a young woman who enters an abandoned theater when she finds the door open one night. Inside is a worn down puppet that proceeds to present the contained stories to the sole guest.
There are six short stories within THE THEATRE BIZARRE, the best of which are “Wet Dreams”, “Sweets”, and “Mother of Toads”. “Wet Dreams” shows an unfaithful husband that loses track of the distinction between horrifying nightmares and reality. “Sweets” is a stomach-churning story of a couple caught up in a sub-culture of sugar fetishists (not your standard chocolate lovers or sweet-tooth sweethearts) that has the ability to put the viewer off sugar for a long time. And “Mother of Toads” is based loosely on a story by Clark Ashton Smith, who was a peer of H.P. Lovecraft and carried a very similar tone in his horror stories. The story that doesn’t quite fit, and as a result is easily forgettable, is “The Accident”, where a young girl comes witnesses death and attempts to understand it.
There are seven directors involved: THE WIZARD OF GORE (2007) director Jeremy Kasten (the framing story); COMBAT SHOCK director Buddy Giovinazzo (“I Love You”); HARDWARE director Richard Stanley (“The Mother of Toads”); PLAGUE TOWN director David Gregory (“Sweets”); HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN cinematographer Karim Hussain (“Vision Stains”); CUTTING MOMENTS director Douglas Buck (“The Accident”); and even visual effects guru and actor Tom Savini (“Wet Dreams”). There are highs and lows throughout, which tends to be the standard for anthologies.
The acting follows the same trend, and there are a few strong performances, but for the most part it’s fairly standard to horror. André Hennicke (PANDORUM) is one of the standouts as Axel in “I Love You”, and gives a strong portrayal of jealousy meets insanity. Modern horror favorite Debbie Rochon (TROMEO AND JULIET) portrays two sides of the sanity spectrum well in “Wet Dreams”. And Lindsay Goranson (PLAGUE TOWN) is particularly creepy in “Sweets”. In the framing sections, Virginia Newcomb (MACHETE JOE) sets a great tone with facial expressions alone.
There are some great practical effects scattered throughout, particularly in “The Mother of Toads”, and enough gore and gross-outs to satisfy your typical gorehound. The stories, however, are a bit lackluster at times, and there’s not a horrendous amount of originality to most of them. As far as plot alone is concerned, “The Accident” and “I Love You” are particularly bland. The only really original and interesting story was “Sweets”, but it would have still benefited from a less predictable ending.
THE THEATRE BIZARRE is not as bizarre as it hopes to be, but is still an entertaining watch for anthology fans. The framing story sets up what could have been an excellent and highly unusual set of stories (as you would expect from a film taking inspiration from Grand Guignol), but instead it lowers to more run-of-the-mill stories presented in a standard film fashion, and fails to live entirely up to expectation. It’s still worth a watch when you’ve got some time though. Just bring your strong stomachs for “Sweets”.