The Theatre Bizarre (Mayhem Horror Fest)
It’s Mayhem! 20 days after the screening of the very good and shocking The Woman it is time for THE Horror Fest in Nottingham. The late night screening of this first festival day was the latest horror anthology by seven well-known directors. The Theatre Bizarre (imdb) includes seven short segments of approx. 20 minutes length each, and as you will see: it combines several incredible genres and styles to build one hell of a horror film. It is the story of young Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb), who looks surprisingly like coming right our of a 60s exploitation film. Enola lives opposite to an old closed theatre, which one day opens its door; Enola decides to take a look… The great hall is occupied by few broken puppets and the stage looks like a mess. Only a human puppet called Peg Poett (Udo Kier) seems to be alive – he introduces Enola Penny to six scary and shocking bizarre stories. This episode by Jeremy Kasten is the framing segment and it definitely works. Udo Kier plays a very good human puppet transforming into a human, whereas Enola Penny transforms into a puppet. It is a nice and spooky atmosphere created by the dark and sinister place of this theatre plus the great costumes of the puppets and the play with light and darkness.
The first segment called The Mother of Toads is the story about a couple traveling in France; he is a fan of Lovecraft, she is an average American blonde girl. They meet an old and mysterious lady who tells them about having an original copy of an old book in which a monster, the mother of toads, is described. The man is amazed by the idea, the woman is not. On a dark and misty evening, he tries to find out the truth and… I was bored by this, indeed, sinister segment. I didn’t like the monster and the stereotypes of American citizens and the obvious turn in the story. Too bad it started right with this story directed by Richard Stanley, but the following parts did their best to change my mind.
Except of one little segment that I really didn’t like within the bunch of The Theatre Bizarre. It was not because of how it was shot, because I think it had a great cinematography, but the way it was told. You could argue that it happens too less in the episode The Accident by Douglas Buck, although it is the story of little girl questioning life and death including seeing both life and death; or that it is too different compared to the other episodes. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good short film but I think it would have worked better outside of this compilation. (I’ve read reviews that stated The Accident as the best episode, so please decide by yourself) The problem I see here is that I watched the trailer before and I expected a gory, odd and extraordinary piece of film but The Accident adds a real sophisticated piece of art. It is the expectation and I simply think that it does not fit into this compilation.
The short bit by Buddy Giovinazzo named I Love You is more what I’d expected. It is a simple dialogue between a wife and her husband but in the end it blurs the borders of what is real and what is not and questions the edges of time. One reason for the episode shot in Berlin being brilliant is the outstanding acting of both German actors Suzan Anbeh and Andre Hennicke as the married couple. The dialogue itself is the second great part of this episode because it is direct and vulgar and you just don’t know what happens next. The end is gory but somehow never unreal – this could be a scene in everyday life. That’s what it makes so special, I guess.
Tom Savini’s Wet Dreams is, in my humble opinion, one of the best episodes of the film. It goes even further than I Love You – the whole segment is a (kind of Inception-like) construct of dreams and you never know on which level you are and where the real world is. It is a simple story of a couple and (in first instance) the dreams of the husband. It starts with a dream of him imagining his wife naked but with a Lovecraftian insect instead of her vagina. He starts to go to the psychologist (Tom Savini himself) who advises to count to three with closed eyes and the dream is over. It works the first times and directly leads to a series of dreams until we finally see her discovering how to stop her husband from stopping the dreams while a torture scene: sinister, mad, bizarre.
Vision Stains (see featured image above) by Karim Hussain is a fantastic episode of a female hermit who steals the fluid of the eye just before the death of the women she kills. Because right before the death the pictures of their lives are projected on the iris and by injecting this fluid to her own eye she can “see” the memories of her victims which she writes down. This episode ends almost philosophic by finding out that it’s not the eye you really see with when she tries to steal the fluid of an unborn child. She also only kills women who decided to die by their way of life (addicts, prostitutes etc.). This reminds me of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the most famous quote: “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” I never thought that I’d quote The Little Prince while talking about a horror film…
The final episode is the best of this very good anthology: Sweets by David Gregory. He creates a bizarre and surreal setting in a room full of sweets in which the fat and dirty protagonist sits and eats sweets over sweets. His girlfriend sits right next to him wanting to brake up with him. She, on the other hand, is a neat and beautiful young lady eating vanilla ice cream. It turns out that he gets a last chance – but this chance is not what he expects it to be. The episode ends almost vampiristic but definitely cannibalistic. It is very surreal and bizarre, and a great episode to end the film with (although there is the end of the framing segment as well).
I was really happy after leaving the cinema, because The Theatre Bizarre was a compilation of the best ideas to find in a horror film. It was gory, strange, balanced, extreme, surreal and … bizarre. Go and watch it if you can. It is worth the money. I am really excited which episode you like the most.