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The Theater Bizarre Review

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Image Entertainment brings Severin Film’s demented anthology to DVD.

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The Film- As a young woman obsesses over an abandoned theater across the street from her flat, the doors suddenly creep open, offering her a look inside. Overwhelmed by the temptation, she maker her way in, where the once dead theater begins to come back to life. An animatronic marionette (the legendary Udo Kier) appears on stage, and the woman takes her seat amongst the lifeless mannequins scattered around the auditorium to watch the show. The marionette activates another puppet for every story he tells, based on a character from that story.

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The Mother of Toads: Richard Stanley- A couple, Martin and Karina, are traveling through a rural part of France when they stop at a roadside store. Intrigued by seemingly tortured faces carved on the building, Martin instantly begins to record the sight- but then Karina notices the earrings. Since he’s big into arcane archeology, he instantly notices they bear the Elder Sign used by HP Lovecraft, namely the Necronomicon (who for the three people reading this who haven’t seen Evil Dead, is basically the “Book of the Dead”).

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The shop owner insists the sigil is from a book that’s been in her family for many generations, and since that’s right up Martin’s alley, he instantly taker her up on her offer to check it out later on that evening. Karina drops him off at her house, which is conveniently located ass-deep in a wet, foggy forest. Since the book of ultimate evil really isn’t her forte, she leaves for her appointment at the spa. The woman shows him the book, and instantly he’s drawn to the image of a monstrous, reptilian looking beast, which he learns is The Mother of Toads.

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Since Martin sees no problem in drinking the multiple cups of tea the woman who possibly dabbles in some seriously ungodly shit keeps insisting he guzzle down, things start to get a little weird for him. A thick fog rolls in, an army of bulbous toads suddenly appear, and Martin’s perspective on the term “hot sticky sex” dramatically changes. And this isn’t even touching on the really bad things that happen that night…

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The short from Hardware and Dust Devil director Richard Stanley is possibly one of his oddest to date. A mix of atmospheric, Lovecraftian, and body horror, this really is the total package when it comes to creepy shit here people. Based on the story of the same name by Clark Ashton Smith, this is a great modernization of the short, but still manages to have its own flair.

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The setting is just great, with nothing except a dank forest and foggy mountains encasing the woman’s tiny house. You can just feel the atmosphere oozing out of this place, literally (get it, because toads have a layer of slime- yeah that one sucked, I’m done now). Things are incredibly fast paced up to the climax, but once it’s there it lingers, forcing you to wallow in every sickening second. There’s not a drop of blood, so when a filmmaker can gross the audience out with a viscous fluid, you know they’re doing something right.

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The effects are top notch and revolting, with only one or two things looking a little less pleasing than the rest (just one or two drops of CGI here and there). The actual Mother of Toads is this fat, multi-breasted green mongoloid that would repulse even the most perverse of characters. And when you thing about the possibility of actually sleeping with this thing, well, that shit right there is pure nightmare fuel my friends. Stanley’s opening segment really gets to you, in more ways than one.

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I Love You: Buddy Giovinazzo- Axel awakens in the bathroom floor of his Berlin apartment, covered in blood with a huge gash across his palm. His wife, Mo, has been out of town for the past week at her cousin’s house, but she should be coming home today. Alarmed at his injury, he calls his best friend George to talk about the mystery wound. What his wife really meant by “I’m staying with my cousin for a week” is “I’m shacking up with your best friend and fucking his brains out for a week, then moving in with him”.

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George brings Mo to her and Axel’s apartment so she can get her things and dump him, then the new couple plans to head to Paris and settle down. The conversation between husband and wife quickly turns sour, and you know what that leads to- sex. After the “goodbye sex”, Mo begins to tell Axel about her years of infidelity, blaming his constant jealousy on her search for a new partner. As the conversation progresses, things begin to indicate this is not reality, but the false memory of a disturbed mind who’s owner has done something very, very bad.

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With Combat Shock mastermind Giovinazzo having lived in Germany for around a decade now, I was curious to see how this short would play out. Call me crazy, but there’re still some major elements from Combat Shock present here, like the protagonist in a confusing and seemingly unfixable situation, the total lack of hope, ect. However unlike Shock, the setting is much friendlier and much less suicide-inducing. Kinda.

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The majority of the plot is driven on dialog, so I can’t comment too heavily without just quoting the characters. Mo’s argument is that Axel constantly had to check in on her and never gave her space, which is logical. Now Axel’s side is that he was just showing her attention because he loved her, and since his suspicions were true he can’t possibly be the bad guy in this, which is also logical. It’s the actions that happen afterwards that really show who took the first step towards actual evil, and to a greater extent, how much they both loved, past tense, each other. This is one depressing film.

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Wet Dreams: Tom Savini- Donnie has been having an affair on his wife Carla (Troma favorite Debbie Rochon) for some time now. His little girlfriend, Maxine, seems to constantly find her way into his dreams- but not exactly the way he wants it. What begins as a sexy romp ends with some total dick-kill by a mutant vagina, and Donnie can’t keep living with night terrors this horrifying. His psychiatrist Dr. Maurey (a great role by Mr. Savini) gives him a little piece of advice when it comes to ending these dreams, “just close your eyes and count to three”.

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Soon Donnie’s right back in the disturbing dreams, but his one two three tactic seems to be working. Well, it works in the sense that it takes him from one nightmare and drops him right back into another. The dreams become indistinguishable from real life, and as his sanity slowly begins to unwind, he realizes this might not be the work of a guilty conscience, but a pissed off wife.

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Tom Savini brings everything with this short: witty dialog, spectacular effects, boobiez, and an absurd amount of cock severance. I really hope you’re not the sensitive type. Being a huge studier of psychology, in particular Freudian dream analysis (Just like Dr. Savini in this short), I instantly knew I was going to love this one. His character plays one of the best mind doctors of all time, openly admitting to raping his own mother in dreams and referring to the monster vagina as “Lovecraftian”. When can I schedule an appointment?

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This is by far one of the goriest films of the anthology, and doesn’t shy away from a single thing. I mean there are some brutal, brutal body modifications here. Debbie Rochon plays the part of an emotionally abused wife looking for revenge quite will, and some of the subtle and situational humor really gives this short a flavor of its own. And no, it doesn’t taste like a Denver omelet (you’re going to have to watch it to get that joke).

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The Accident: Douglas Buck- After witnessing a fatal motorcycle accident, a mother explains to her daughter the purpose of life and death. As she puts the little girl to sleep, her mind travels back to the wreck as she tries to comprehend how fragile life can be.

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Coming from the director of the insanely disturbing and gruesome Cutting Moments, I was surprised to see this film didn’t contain some fictional monster or blood soaked orgy. Instead, Douglas Buck opted to personify the scariest moment of our lives- when we realize death is inevitable. But it’s not just the story; it’s the flawless and haunting execution that easily makes this the single most depressing piece of cinema this year.

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The setting for the accident is a gloomy road that cuts right through a dense forest, and the collision involves a father and son who just so happen to be passing the car of the mother and daughter. All four characters interact in an innocent way, and the bikers speed ahead. It’s not until the car rounds the curve that they realize what has happened. The mother explains death to her daughter while they’re both lying in their comfortable bed, so how’s that for juxtaposition.

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The shortest film of the lot, The Accident is an unexpectedly bleak and saddening experience. The performances are fucking spectacular, and the inclusion of an additional element of nature (that will obviously be left ambiguous as not to ruin anything) creates a perfectly crafted mood piece of a short.

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Vision Stains: Karim Hussain- A woman who obsesses over memories has found a way to steal them from others. Preying on female vagrants, who as she puts it “want to die”, she kills her victims before collecting some of the fluid from their eyeball. She then injects the fluid into her own eye, and takes in the memories that flashed before their eyes. After dosing on memories, she transcribes what she experiences.

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The woman has abandoned all possessions and lives in a rundown shack, just to experience the exact life as her victims have so she can identify with them more closely. The memory theft is only given a guise of research, but you can clearly see this is pure addiction and murder. Then one day the mind junkie sees a pregnant woman, and she wonders what the memories of a child would be like. This results in a horrifying experience.

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Coming from easily one of my favorite directors of all time, Karim Hussain (who directed the criminally unheard of masterpiece Subconscious Cruelty, Ascension, and The Beautiful Beast) has always used the unconscious and the forbidden as a motif to show how dark us humans truly are. Vision Stains is no exception, and it packs one hell of a punch.

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Over 5 years or so ago, Karim sent me an autograph with one sentence written above the signature. It said “never close your eyes”. While watching the short, this quote was constantly in the back of my head. The ending was not at all what I expected, but at the same time was happier than anticipated. I took this to show that even after a lifetime (or possibly multiple, for that matter) of searching through the darkest crevices in the human mind and nature, eventually you will realize there are some things you will never comprehend. If you’ve a fan of his work like I am, you’ll probably find this almost bittersweet. If this is your first exposure, I can promise it will leave you wanting to see more from Karim Hussain.

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Sweets: David Gregory- A couple, Estelle and Greg, sit in a disgusting room covered with rotting food and candy. Estelle has become bored with Greg, who is completely broken when she decided to call the relationship quits. Their time together is shown to be a colorful and carefree mission to get the biggest sugar buzz of all time, constantly eating candy and having a fantastic time. Then things began to get salty.

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Estelle gets involved with a Warhol wannabe who thinks gluttony and eating like a barbarian with muscle spasms is the next big movement in the art world. At one of the elaborate shows the studio arranges, the ex-sweettooth manages to get some extra fresh meat for the attendees. Eventually the party crosses from one taboo to the next, and someone special is on the menu.

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From the mind of Severin Films and Dark Sky Films head, not to mention director of Plague Town (an ”Irish Hills Have Eyes”, if you will) David Gregory, will make the act of eating seem as disgusting as scatophilia. There isn’t another man I can think of who can combine the visuals of that Katy Perry music video about Candyland (or some shit, I don’t keep up with mediocrity when it comes to music) with The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

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Of all the films collected on the disk, this one has got to be the most bizarre. At the same time, isn’t the idea of using food to showcase that old saying “relationship turned sour” just kinda obvious? It all makes sense and fits together perfectly, creating a colorful and whimsical trip that gets gruesome and bleak fast. I hope you have a strong stomach.

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Theatre Guignol: Jeremy Kasten- The framing story to all the diabolical shorts of Theater Bizarre. This is the slowly progressing story of the woman who entered the theater and is watching what we’re seeing, only in puppet form. As the show goes on, the marionettes begin to look disturbingly lifelike, and she realizes coming into the theater wasn’t such a good idea after all.

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If you are given the task of creating a story to showcase six separate stories, and you manage to make your work as entertaining and memorable as the rest of the set, then you’re a damn genius. And that’s exactly what Jeremy Kasten is. Director of the mindfuck of an experience The Attic Expeditions and the remake of H.G. Lewis’s classic Wizard of Gore, Kasten has proven her merit and then some.

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This is probably the hardest thing about the entire film to talk about, because it’s split up into around 10 sections. I can’t exactly give a plot description, because that’s half of the frame story spoiled. But it’s easy to see the ending coming, and by around the time the second segment ends you’ll be able to guess no problem. While this isn’t exactly something good, the effects, cinematography, and props create a whimsically demented world that you love to be in. The puppet people are just fucking awesome, and even if you know what’s coming, you still can’t wait to see how it looks.

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Overall, The Theater Bizarre is a powerhouse of the genre. Combining the work of legends and unsung heroes of horror, this is the best anthology to come around in years. Imagine an intercontinental Vault of Horrors and you get the idea. A sickening, darkly humorous and highly entertaining experience, Theater Bizarre is easily some of the best fun a horror fan can have. Very rarely does a collection come along that is balanced and perfect, with every film equaling out to create fantastic variety with consistently great execution, much less the damn set-up and frame segments being on par too. This is such a satisfying ride, and one of the prime reasons I love this demented genre.

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The Package- Theater Bizarre was shot on what appears to be (for the most part) high grade digital camera equipment. As far as picture quality goes the film looks good, but there’s a problem with some heavy digital noise during the darker scenes. Also, there are a few instances of “lines” that tend to pop up on movies shot on DV, but it’s nothing too distracting.

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The audio is a Dolby mix that sounds great. Volume and dialog levels balance nicely, and everything is clear and distortion free.

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There are commentaries for every segment except The Accident, as well as the original trailer, interviews with Gregory, Kasten, and Giovinazzo, and some behind the scenes footage (except for I Love You). Despite the seemingly small quantity the supplements are very entertaining to watch, but I really wanted a little more to round out what could be one of the best disks of the year.

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Order from Image Entertainment.

 

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