Saturday, June 22, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #22: THE THEATER BIZARRE (2011)

The Story: An anthology of six horror shorts in the Grand Guignol style.  

ExpectationsBeing a horror fan is like panning for gold.  Sometimes you strike it rich.  More often, you don't.  But if you love the genre, you become the kind of determined and discerning viewer who can spot gold dust in even the smallest quantities, and who can tell the good stuff from the fool's gold.  It's that mentality, I suppose, that draws me to anthology horror films.  I go into a film like THE THEATER BIZARRE thinking that I'm getting six movies for the price of one.  I'm not expecting to strike it rich... I'm just hoping for the thrill of some small discovery.
Reaction: This film begins with a wraparound segment featuring horror icon Udo Kier as a pasty-faced marionette (Guignol?).  Kier is always a bit creepy, but he doesn't have much to do here.  His main audience is Virginia Newcomb, a perpetually frightened-looking patron of downtown L.A.'s Million Dollar Theater.  After a few segments, her wide-eyed reactions become pretty tiresome, and the wraparound story becomes unnecessary filler.

The  shorts themselves are a varied bunch.  Buddy Giovinazzo's "I Love You," Tom Savini's "Wet Dreams" and David Gregory's "Sweets" are all gruesome peans to bad relationships.  The female characters in these shorts are cold and cruel; the men are desperate and crazy.  There's something refreshing about the frankness of the dialogue in Giovinazzo's piece, and Savini's self-analysis prevents his segment from being completely misogynistic... but these stories exist entirely for protracted scenes of ultra-violence.  David Gregory's "Sweets" trades in the grue for an absurd extended metaphor.  Occasionally the surreal imagery is downright brilliant, but unfortunately there's no story to hold the images together.  

That said, "Sweets" is still more interesting than Richard Stanley's "The Mother of Toads," a simplistic Lovecraftian setup with boringly predictable characters.  Since the title of the short forecasts the old gypsy's identity in advance, I was hoping that the bland American tourist who idiotically follows her home would somehow turn out to be just as strange as she was.  No luck. 

Karim Hussain's "Vision Stains" has a thought-provoking premise, about a woman who uses "simple surgery" to import the final thoughts of dying people into her own head.  It would have had a much more visceral impact, however, without such a pretentious voieover.  I found it difficult to get emotionally involved while being bombarded by grand philosophical musings.

The best of the bunch -- by far -- was Douglas Buck's "The Accident," a beautiful and powerful tone poem about a young girl's first experience of death.  This short really doesn't belong among the others.  It's not an example of Grand Guignol, but of a style of horror that's much more subtle and sophisticated.  Admittedly, I'm revealing my own biases... Am I being too hard on the other segments because I prefer a more subtle brand of horror story? 

I guess that's the thing about being a horror fan.  One fan's gold is another fan's tailings.  For me, an anthology like THE THEATER BIZARRE is worth watching for just one worthwhile discovery.  So I'm not complaining.... but I can't recommend this anthology to anyone except the miners.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: If you have even the slightest aversion to eyeball trauma, you will have a VERY difficult time making it through "Vision Stains." 

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