Thursday, January 14, 2021

THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1, French 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Douglas Buck, Jeremy Kasten, Karim Hussain, Richard Stanley, Tom Savini
Cast: Udo Kier, Guilford Adams, Suzan Anbeh, Lindsay Goranson, André Hennicke, Kaniehtiio Horn, Lena Kleine, Catriona MacColl, Victoria Maurette, Virginia Newcomb, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini, Melodie Simard

In the anthology The Theatre Bizarre (2010) seven transgressive filmmakers were given a modest budget and complete creative freedom to create their own short films inspired by the spectacle of the Grand Guignol. The film opens with a wrap-around story of a young woman named Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) who enters a derelict theatre where she is enthralled by six bizarre stories that are each introduced by a creepy marionette character played by Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil), who is accompanied by an eerie troupe of automatons creations.

Up first we have the Lovecraftian tale "The Mother of Toads" directed by Richard Stanley, the director of Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992). In it American couple Martin (Shane Woodard) and Karina (Victoria Maurette, Left For Dead) are touring the French Pyrenees when they encounter a witchy woman named Mere (Catriona MacColl, The Beyond) who lures Martin, an anthropologist by trade, to her rural villa in the mountains with the promise of the showing him the fabled Necronomicon. The young man once alone with Mere discovers she is more than she at first appears, leading to supernatural shenanigans and a creepy good time. This is a well-crafted creeper with some supremely eerie and out-there moments, the seduction of Martin by the aged witch is quite unnerving to watch and it only gets more grotesque when he wakes up next to a slime-covered toad queen. The gooey low-budget creature effects are fun stuff and this is a very strong star to the anthology, which turned out to be my favorite of the bunch. When this was first released in 2011 it was great great to see Stanley back directing horror again, and he has since come back with his own over-the-top feature film adaptation of Lovecraft's Color Out Of Space, which I highly recommend. The short features gorgeous settings and great cinematography with some Bava/Argento gel lighting and an atmospheric score from Simon Boswell (Dust Devil), it has an great Italian Gothic horror feel with a Lovecraftian vibe that is  rich with occult symbolism.

Up next from director Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock) is a disturbing tale of twisted love and betrayal titled "I Love You". Axel (Andre Hennicke, Antibodies) is a pathetically sad man who is pleading for his cheating lover Mo (Suzan Anbeh, French Kiss) to stay with him despite her painfully honest admissions of infidelity, many of  which she lays bare in a series of promiscuous flashbacks. This one is heavy on dialogue and more of a psychological drama but we get a satisfying and bloody finale that delivers the goods. 

"Wet Dreams"  come by way of make-up FX legend Tom Savini and follows a douche-nozzle named Donnie (James Gill) who steps outside the bounds of his marriage to Carla (Debbie Rochon, Slime City Massacre) regularly. Donnie's extramarital affairs seem to be having a deeply psychological effect on him though, he is haunted by castration anxiety nightmares, for which he seeks therapy from psychiatrist Dr. Maurey (Tom Savini, From Dusk Till Dawn). We discover that  Donnie has sticking it to the psychiatrist's wife though, and as you might imagine, when provoked a head shrink is capable of some dark and twisted shit. Not a bad entry but not one of my favorite entries on this anthology,  but we do get some tasty gore from the Toetag Pictures crew. 

Directed by Douglass Buck (Family Portraits: A Trilogy of America) the somber "The Accident" deals with the aftermath of a motorcycle accident that was witnessed by a mother (Lena Kleine) and her adolescent daughter (Melodie Simard, Mirror Mirror). It's a gorgeously shot film with an emotional core and  tenderness that sets it apart from the other dark-hearted tales on this anthology. The young girl's questions about death to her mother was quite touching if perhaps a bit misplaced tonally on this anthology, but still a technically string short.

More squirm inducing is the eye-trauma of "Vision Stains" by director Karim Hussain (Ascension), a unique vision of terror indeed as a young woman (Kaneihtiio Horn, Possessor) stalks and mortally wounds street walkers and junkies in the dark corners of seedy neighborhoods. As her victims lay dying she plunges a needle into the white of their eye withdrawing the ocular fluid which she then injects into her own eyeball, it is the sort of thing that will have you squirming in your seat! The transference of ocular fluid allows her to see the memories of the victim, which she hurriedly scrawls into a journal. It's a weird one and it gets under the skin, it's a story I think I would have enjoyed seeing fleshed out to a full-length feature. 

The finale is a candy-colored nightmare of gluttony and lust from Severin's own David Gregory entitled "Sweets". In it a troubled couple named Estelle (Lindsay Goranson, Plague Town) and Greg (Guilord Adams, TV's Ave 43) are engaged in a bizarre fetish that involves mass digestion of confectionery delights to the point that is rather stomach-churning. Later the the pair attend a party hosted by Mikela Da Vinci (Lynn Lowry, I Drink Your Blood) and things get even more bizarre, a beautifully filmed and shocking bit of nastiness to be sure, seemingly a meditation on the nature of relationships and break-ups. 

Audio/Video: Theatre Bizarre (2011) arrives o Blu-ray from Severin Films in 1080p HD framed in 2.35:1 widescreen. The digital shot vignettes look excellent with good color saturation and black levels. The close-ups offer pleasing amounts of fine detail, with the whole thing looking rather  solid on Blu-ray. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. Everything sounds crisp and well-balanced, though not all the shorts lend themselves to a full surround experience being that some are mainly dialogue driven, but the score sounds great. 

Extras begin with both an archival 2012 audio commentary and a brand new 2020 audio commentary, neither of which I have given a spin yet, I am saving both for for future re-watches. We also get an expansive making of documentary that runs an hour and forty-three minutes, in it we get input from the director Douglas Buck, David Gregory Buddy Giovinazzo, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini and Richard Stanley, plus producers Fabrice Lambot, Daryl J. Tucker,  Michael Ruggiero, and actors Udo Kier, Catriona MacColl, Lynn Lowry and a bunch more. Most of this is comprised of interviews and behind-the scenes footage shot back in 2011 and it gets into the nitty gritty of how the film came about, how the inspiration cane to David Gregory when he was editing a French anthology films (Aria). It also gets getting into the recruitment and approach of the various directors,  some of the the constraints and how certain effects were achieved and a ton more, at nearly two hours it covers a lot of ground. 

There is also an 8-minute French TV on-set report focusing on Richard Stanley's film shoot with some decent Stanley interview footage that gets into how the story was inspired by several local witch legend and the unique nature of the area the film was shot in.  Filmmaker Pat Tremblay also gives us a pair of nine-minute making of featurettes for Vision Stains and The Accident that have interviews with cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage, plus we get  three archival episodes of the now defunct Shock Till You Drop’s Choice Cuts web series hosted by Ryan Turek (now of Blumhouse). These range in length from 10-15 minutes, with Turek interviewing Buddy Giovinazzo (10 min), David Gregory (15 min), and Jeremy Kasten (13 min), with each director digging into the themes of their segments. 

In the ten-minute Boswell Scores composer Simon Boswell (Hardware, Dust Devil), who composed the music for The Mother of Toads & Vision Stains, gets into what it was like being on set for The Mother of Toads, and what it has been like working with director Richard Stanley over the years. He points out that Stanley has never worked with temp tracks, preferring instead to let Boswell do his thing, and getting into what his thought process was for each of the films, including how Karim Hussain wanted a more Italian horror sounds for his segment.   

The one extra I was most looking forward to was the extended cut of Richard Stanley's The Mother of Toads, but I will say that you should come into it with slightly tempered expectations. A text blurb informs that this extended cut  was created to 'fulfill production and credit requirements of the local governing bodies' and that it was never finished in HD. It feels a bit like a rough assembly sourced in spots from what looks to be VHS footage with a time code stamp. It's still a pretty cool to see the longer version of the short, which is my favorite on the set. The disc is buttoned-up with a handful of trailers for the anthology. 

This is the standard release version of the film, Severin also released it as a 2-disc version with a limited edition  soundtrack CD and a slipcover, both of which are website exclusives and still available HERE at the time of this review. This single-disc standard release edition arrives in a black keepcase with a single sides sleeve of artwork, which features an illustration of Udo Kier's marionette character on the cover. I am not usually one to nitpick the artwork but I was not a fan of how the red lettering on the spine is barely visible, it's got no shelf appeal whatsoever. 

Special Features:
- 2020 Filmmakers Audio Commentary
- 2012 Filmmakers Audio Commentary
- Backstage: The Making of The Theatre Bizarre – New feature length documentary featuring interviews with Directors Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley, Producers Daryl J. Tucker, Fabrice Lambot, Michael Ruggiero, Actors Udo Kier, Catriona MacColl, Lynn Lowry, Victoria Maurette, Kaniehtiio Horn and more. (103 min) 
- French TV On-Set Report on Richard Stanley’s Return to Genre Filmmaking (8 min) 
- Making of Vision Stains by Filmmaker Pat Tremblay (9 min) 
- Making of The Accident by Filmmaker Pat Tremblay (9 min) 
- Shock Till You Drop’s Choice Cuts with Buddy Giovinazzo (10 min), David Gregory (15 min), Jeremy Kasten (13 min) 
- Boswell Scores – Interview with The Mother of Toads & Vision Stains Soundtrack Composer Simon Boswell (10 min) 
- The Mother of Toads – Extended Cut (21 min) 
- Trailers (4 min) 

The Theatre Bizarre (2011) is a wide-ranging and deeply dark assortment of tales, not all were of the caliber of Stanley's "Mother of Toads" but each was well-crafted, interesting and stylish in it's own way. In my experience very few anthologies fire on all cylinders from start to finish, that's just the way of the format, but The Theatre Bizarre offers plenty of screams for fans of dark, psychological and sometimes Lovecraftian thrills.