The Theatre Bizarre is an ambitious showcase for the work of six directors, an anthology-style piece of cinema that borrows the structure of Amicus movies such as Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror, The House That Dripped Blood, and Asylum. There is a traditional wrap-around segment from which the individual short films are launched, and this segment, in itself, is visually impressive. The British spelling of 'Theatre' in the title is indicative perhaps of the British background of the film's originating producers.
The film was made for a very small budget and is a terrific example of what can be done with love, passion, sacrifice and commitment. The feel of the introductory segment is Grand Guignol-inspired, but the six films themselves don't necessarily adhere to that theme, and better represent the individual, unfettered dreams of directors Richard Stanley (The Mother of Toads), Buddy Giovinazzo (I Love You), Tom Savini (Wet Dreams), Douglas Buck (The Accident), Karim Hussain (Vision Stains), and David Gregory (Sweets).
What you, as a viewer, will take from the film will depend on where your tastes lie as far as horror goes. Stanley's segment, which references Bava, Argento, Fulci, and Warren publications, is a Lovecraftian journey into witchery set in a foggy, visually stunning section of rural France. Lacking structure, it even feels like some of Fulci's more puzzling works. Giovinazzo's I Love You, set in a Berlin apartment, is an intimate essay on the disintegration of a relationship that ends as you would expect a Giovinazzo movie to end. Referencing Zulawski's Possession (at least tonally), its greatest asset is its strong cast of two. Wet Dreams, directed by Tom Savini, delivers a tasty feast of gore, sex, and sleaze. A cheating husband pays for his deeds with foul, paranoid dreams. Without a doubt, this story is in closest proximity to the spirit of the old EC-inspired anthologies. The Accident, by Douglas buck, opens with images that echoed, for me, Agnes Varda's Vagabond. Probably the most deeply disturbing of the offerings, it plays and feels like European arthouse horror, and involves an accident that affects a mother and daughter.
Director Karim Hussein, who also shot Stanley's Toads, serves up Vision Stains, a pleasingly subversive and wet entry with a strong premise that, unfortunately, is not as well explored dramatically as it could have been. Some additional writing might have helped. Still, it's visually invigorating, and the lead performance is strong. Finally, David Gregory (also one of the anthology's producers), follows up with Sweets, his first directorial effort since Plague Town. Of the bunch, this was the most outright entertaining for me, and its subject of extreme gluttony had me squirming. Reveling in a cinematic form of Grand Gastronomic Guignol, it consciously or unconsciously references the surreal excesses of Marco Ferreri's La Grande Bouffe with its lurid tale of a young couple and their sweet tooth. As its focus is a familiar subject, the "relate" factor to its putrid, vomitous horror is high.
Anthologies directed by one person (Creepshow, for example) are difficult to rate because success is based on the effectiveness of multiple stories, not one. Anthologies directed by six directors, such as this, are an even more difficult proposition. The Theatre Bizarre is an appropriate title because each tale is bizarre, and the theatre serves as a gallery for the exhibition of multiple genre efforts with very loose thematic connections. Also worth mentioning is the fine atmosphere and strangeness director Jeremy Kasten achieves with his wraparound segment in which a young woman is drawn to a strange theatre filled with mannequins, odd machinery, and Udo Kier. I couldn't help thinking that there is a story about this theatre and its inhabitants somewhere.
Not as consistently Grand Guignol as the title suggests, this unusual anthology is, nevertheless, well worth the admission price.
A DVD (from Image) with excellent commentaries on most segments and some brief behind-the-scenes snippets is now available. Unfortunately, Image didn't deem the film worthy of a BluRay release. Hopefully, they'll get a clue and address that error in judgment.