Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Welcome to THE THEATRE BIZARRE


The 31 DAYS OF FRIGHT Anthology-Athon continues with a look at THE THEATRE BIZARRE. This review also appears in Exploitation Retrospect #51, available from our website and the Box 5531 Productions shop at Etsy.

I came of age as a trashhound during the 80s and 90s. Forget how it's portrayed in movies and on television, that era ruled. Not only did it feature the last gasp of grindhouses/drive-ins and an explosion of trash cinema zines, but you couldn't swing a re-animated cat without hitting some kind of horror anthology. (I also dig girls with big mall hair. Sue me.)

Oh sure, horror and sci-fi fans had been blessed with anthologies before... and some damn good ones to boot. TV's earlier eras offered up the likes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Thriller and (my favorite) Night Gallery, while cinemagoers got the crap scared out of them by visits to DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) and TALES FROM THE CRYPT/THE VAULT OF HORROR, a one-two punch of early 70s EC Comics adaptations.

But the 80s and 90s were like a non-stop buffet of anthologized schlock, whether it was pouring forth from the cinema (TWO EVIL EYES, CREEPSHOW, CREEPSHOW 2, THE OFFSPRING, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, CAT'S EYE) or, more importantly, your TV screen. No matter what your age or taste, TV had the goods. Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, Monsters, Freddy's Nightmares, Goosebumps, The Hitchhiker, Friday the 13th and more all spun weekly tales of revenge, horror, evil and possession, paving the way for what appears to be a new wave of horror anthologies.

THE THEATRE BIZARRE, a six-segment feature boasting an all-star cast of trash cinema vets and up and comers, is a worthy entry in this century's tsunami of truncated terror. Loosely connected by a wrap-around story featuring Udo Kier as a creepy mannequin man whose fa├žade slowly erodes to reveal – AIGH! – Udo Kier, BIZARRE's lineup of writers and directors offer up a unique sampling menu of their own. There's an ode to the head-scratching, Lovecraftian-inspired horror flicks of the 80s (Richard Stanley's 'Mother of Toads' featuring Fulci stalwart Catriona MacColl), a gory effects reel steeped in dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream tropes (Tom Savini's 'Wet Dreams' starring B-scream queen Debbie Rochon), and even a hypnotic (if a bit incongruous) tale of a tragic accident seen through the eyes of a child not much older than my daughter (Douglas Buck's palette-cleansing 'The Accident' which evokes comparisons to a Twin Peaks-era David Lynch).

Of the film's six pack of sinema, however, three tales stand out. COMBAT SHOCK director Buddy Giovinazzo's 'I Love You' is a bloody tale of betrayal and suspicion, with Andre Hennicke reminding me of a young Klaus Kinski (though Kinski would have probably blanched at playing someone so paranoid and weak). And despite its itchy-skitchy reliance on eye violence (aka my kryptonite), I'd love to see Karim Hussain's 'Vision Stains' expanded to feature length.

But like a dessert that caps off a delicious meal, David Gregory's 'Sweets' provides a fitting conclusion to the festivities. Packed with eye-popping visuals and a sly, sexy, winking performance from Annette Rothman (who also appeared in the director's excellent feature debut PLAGUE TOWN), the segment might make you think twice about going out for cake and coffee after the flick, but it will also send you running to your volumes of Creepy and Eerie that the tale channels.

THE THEATRE BIZARRE is certainly more hit than miss and even the weaker segments have their allure. The Severin disc includes commentary from and interviews with the directors in addition to the usual "bonus feature" suspects like trailers and behind the scenes segments, providing plenty of entertainment as we await more anthologies on the horizon like V/H/S, THE ABCs of DEATH and the Chris Columbus-produced adaptation of Warren Publishing's aforementioned Creepy.

THE THEATRE BIZARRE is available from Amazon.

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