Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) enters a ramshackle theater where a human-sized puppet (horror legend Udo Kier) offers up strange tales of… well strange-ass shit (all loosely fitting the gore-packed French theater tradition of Grand Guignol… shows comprised of short horror vignettes containing copious bloodshed and gore) in what serves as the framing segments of off-the-rails horror anthology The Theater Bizarre, one of the newest Blu-ray offerings from those delightful devils over at Severin!
Kicking of this creepy collection of terror tales is Richard Stanley’s The Mother Of Toads, which concerns the misadventures of young travelers Martin (Shane Woodward) and Karina (Victoria Maurette) who, as fate would have it, encounter Mere Antoinette (Lucio Fulci regular Catriona MacColl)… a mystic jewelry seller who claims to have a copy of the fabled Necronomicon, which interests Martin to no fuckin’ end!
Karina soon pisses off to the spa, leaving Martin to explore all of Antoinette’s wicked wonders… which results in a glimpse at the aforementioned cursed text… as well as slime ensconced sex (the best kind… or so I’ve heard), and plenty of Dagon-esque creature action!
As you may, or may not know; I consider Stanley to be a genius, and this short segment does nothing to change that opinion. This is a perfect slice of Lovecraft-infused, psychotronic cinema and it’s a definite spiritual precursor (especially in visual aesthetics) to what the director would bring to life in his actual Lovecraft adaptation of Color Out of Space in 2019.
Needless to say, this arcane anthology is off to one hell of a start my cats n’ creeps!
Next we have I Love You, which concerns Axel (Andre Hennicke) and Mo (Suzan Anbeh) who are in the rockiest of relationships; one filled with infidelity, mental illness, and of course plenty of the ol’ red sauce splashed about when things inevitably go south!
Coming from Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock), this entry is filled with nihilism, hallucinations, and some rather effective character interaction (both Hennicke and Anbeh are excellent, as is the dialog they are given) in a tale of just how far love will go… even if it’s a one-sided affair.
Following that comes Wet Dreams; the story of Donnie (James Gill), a man with some very strange sex dreams (you’ll never look at insectoid vajays the same way again, I tell ya), and a loveless marriage to Carla (Debbie Rochon).
Thankfully his psychiatrist, Dr. Maurey (Tom Savini, who also directed the segment) is teaching him to control those aforementioned nightmares… though he probably wouldn’t be so eager to help if he knew Don was fuckin’ his wife (Jodii Christianson) on the down low.
Of course Donnie is about to go from fucking to fucked as karma deals him one hell of a comeuppance!
Savini guides this one with a true sense of E.C. Comics-style ghoulish glee… and the tale is full of grizzly gore aplenty, a fun twist or two, and a mean streak a mile fuckin’ long! Add in some fun performances from Gill and Rochon and you have a winner here through and through!
Next is The Accident, which presents a yarn involving a mother (Lena Kleine) and her young daughter (Melodie Simard) exploring the reasons behind death after the girl witnesses a biker die in a horrific accident on a wooded road.
Melancholy, emotional, and terrifying for reasons beyond the normal terror tropes, this short slice, courtesy of Douglas Buck (who’s other shorts I reviewed right here) is a jolt of pure loss of innocence heart-punch as our youthful protagonist is just on the cusp of realizing that parents really don’t hold the answers to all of life’s mysteries.
After that comes Vision Stains, the story of a writer (Kaniehtiio Horn) who documents the stories of homeless junkies and prostitutes. How does she get said info you may ask? Why by injecting a needle into her dying subjects eyes, extracting an essence, and then shooting the substance into her own eye! She then writes down the visions that follow… but some secrets should remain just that!
Karim Hussain really delivers in this one, let me tell ya! There is a nice Cronenberg streak running through this segment (no surprise as Hussain served as cinematographer on Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor, which also featured Horn in a role… and would make a great double feature with this entry), and the realistic gore, gritty streets, and solid acting from Horn make this one of the collection’s best!
Last up is Sweets, the tale of a candy and ice cream filled fetish on the skids for it’s participants Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) and Greg (Guilford Adams), but Estelle suggests the couple attend a shindig being thrown by Mikela Da Vinci (Lynn Lowry)… vomit, blood, and a spoonful of wrong ensue!
David Gregory fills this one with lurid colors, spraying bodily fluids, and oh so much gross… it’s like a pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards fell into a puddle of barf outside of a carnival in Tromaville, and it’s delirious! Add in some great performances, a great aesthetic, and gag-inducing visuals and you have an unforgettable nugget of bite-sized fright flick gold!
I’d recommend this arcane anthology based on the strength of The Mother Of Toads, Wet Dreams, and Vision Stains alone… but honestly every single segment here is a ghoulishly good time indeed my boils n’ ghouls!
Adding to the fearsome fun on this Blu-ray release from Severin are some great eerie extras!
First comes two audio commentaries with the filmmakers; one an archival track from 2012, the other brand-new… and both offering fascinating insights on how these segments came to be and the challenges of creating something incredible on a rather tight budget!
Following that we take an even deeper dive into the film’s production via a feature length documentary covering the film’s creation (via interviews both archival and new, as well as copious behind-the-scenes footage), along with a French TV report covering the making of The Mother Of Toads, pieces focusing on the production of Vision Stains and The Accident, a trio of Shock Till You Drop interviews featuring Gregory, Giovanizzo and Kasten respectively, and an interview with Simon Boswell (who composed the scores for The Mother Of Toads and Vision Stains).
Also included are an extended cut of The Mother Of Toads, and a duo of trailers for the film.
From top to beastly bottom, The Theater Bizarre is one of the best arcane anthologies out there, and the talent assembled each weave frightfully unique yarns filled to the brim with monsters and madness!