The Theatre Bizarre: A Mixed Bag Horror Film Anthology

Anthologies are always a crap shoot, even low-budget indie film anthologies in which the directors have free reign to create the characters and worlds they want. This one is no different. There are a range of films, some lame, some decent, and one I would actually recommend to people, maybe two.

There is a framing sequence loosely connecting each story as part of an overall performance starring the illustrious Udo Kier, which is part of what helped sell me on this library find. Jeremy Kasten directs these scenes, titled "Theatre Guignol," featuring Kier and many actors playing these sort of papier-mâché automatons with creepy, gear-grinding movements. I'm not sure what happened at the end of this sequence, but it was somewhat cool to watch for the creepiness of the robotic movements of the actors as they foreshadowed each entry.

The second best entry is Karim Hussain's "Vision Stains," in which a woman murders female drug addicts and injects the fluid from their eyes into her own to give witness to the lives of these lost and forgotten women. She records their lives in notebooks, of which there are hundreds, if not thousands, thinking she's preserving their otherwise lost stories. To her, men's lives are not nearly as meaningful or fulfilling.

Apparently some viewers passed out, unable to handle the hypodermic needle piercing eyeballs. Dr. Frederic Wertham and the Comics Code Authority are probably rolling in their graves. When the protagonist sees an obviously pregnant crackhead walking down the street I thought I was going to be witness to something especially horrific, but the scene wasn't as graphic as I would have done it (think Prometheus medical-pod scene). People would've passed out then. The film almost lost me then because the result wasn't what I was expecting and it turns out maybe the protagonist is merely crazy and could not actually see the lives of these forgotten women.

The best entry in this anthology is "The Accident"' which has an art film quality and isn't terribly bizarre as it takes a straightforward approach to the concept of death as the little girl witnesses the results of a highway accident and simply asks her mother why people die. It's soft and sweet and made me cry. Something sorely lacking in many films is emotional resonance. If there's a WOW! factor in "The Accident," it's in that it can achieve a connection with the audience's hearts and minds as there aren't necessarily any satisfying answers to this question, but we've all wondered this at some time. I absolutely have to comment on the biker in this film as his face has such character etched in every line and wrinkle and on top of that he emotes so well in his silence, which is what brought me to tears. I plan to check out more of writer/director Douglas Buck's work.

It's mostly downhill from here. The first and weakest film is Richard Stanley's "The Mother of Toads," which was only good in that the male lead is a hot bearded guy and it also stars a porn star with a stacked body and the two have a hot sex scene, otherwise, the story and tone were incredibly weak and felt like the usual SyFy Channel schlock, but with nudity.

Tom Savini, of original Dawn of the Dead fame, directs "Wet Dreams," about an asshole who beats his wife and cheats on her and ends up subject to her torturous "wet dreams," the result familiar to something out of Warren or EC horror comics of the 1950s. Gruesome special effects and torture ideas, but I didn't much care for it otherwise. I wasn't truly brought into that world.

"I Love You," directed by Buddy Giovainazzo wasn't bad, but wasn't good. I felt a little like I was watching clips of Tommy Wiseau's The Room, only better made and acted, but still not very engaging, featuring something of a shock ending a la The Sixth Sense, only not original.

"Sweets" is the final entry, directed by David Gregory. Like "I Love You," it features a pathetic boyfriend who doesn't have a sense of self and is therefore subject to the whims of his significant other who, in this case, is merely fattening him up for a foodie's gory feast. This film is mostly gross and doesn't offer much else but some pretty fetish model moments.

The DVD also includes interviews with three of the directors, a really weak behind-the-scenes feature, which spends what felt like three meaningless minutes a piece on each of the entries, and a director's commentary I don't care to hear more of than I listened to half-heatedly for 40 minutes, especially because the director of the best film did not contribute to this special feature.

Ultimately, give the two good films and the framing sequence a shot and roll the die on the other four.