Thursday, January 26, 2012

Midnight at the Grand Guignol: The Theatre Bizarre

Marionettes are creepy, especially when they look like Udo Kier. Fittingly though, that fairly well sums up Pegg Poett, the master of ceremonies for The Theatre Bizarre (trailer here), a horror anthology film screening midnights this Friday and Saturday in New York.

Once the reluctant audience member settles into her seat in the spooky old theater, Poett starts the show with Richard Stanley’s Mother of Toads. Effectively combining Lovecraftian themes with the eerie backdrop of the French Pyrenees, it is easily one of the film’s best looking chapters, with special credit due to the design team. It is hard not to dig a film with a “toad wrangler” credited and the appearance of Lucio Fulci regular Catriona MacColl as Mère Antoinette is a major bonus for genre fans.

Buddy Giovinazzo’s I Love You is arguably the best of show. Set within a Berlin apartment, his tale of passion and madness has a distinctive European sensibility. Giovinazzo deftly builds the tension out of the claustrophobic setting and gets a terrific lead performance from Andre M. Hennicke, a well established German actor known for supporting turns in Jerichow and A Dangerous Method.

Though gore legend Tom Savini’s Wet Dream looks rather muddy, it has its clever moments and certainly delivers what his fans expect. In contrast, Douglas Buck’s excellent The Accident is a horse of a completely different color. Sensitively portraying a young girl’s first exposure to death, it is somewhat out of place in Bizarre, but a good short film is a good short film, regardless where you find it. Indeed, Lena Kleine and Melodie Simmard are both quite natural and engaging, as the mother and daughter, respectively

While it is at times very disturbing, Karim Hussain’s Vision Stains might be the most original and ambitious constituent film in Bizarre. Addressing themes of memory, consciousness, and perception, it depicts an extremely anti-social woman who steals the image-memories of dying homeless women by injecting their optic fluid into her eyes. (Yes, we see this process up close and personal.)

Unfortunately, Bizarre ends on a low note. David Gregory’s cannibalism tale Sweets is both unpleasant and predictable. Still, Bizarre’s ratio of good to bad is about four and a half to one, which is an impressive batting average for anthology films.

Bizarre covers a lot of bases, but I Love You, The Accident, and Vision Stains should all appeal to serious film patrons, while also delivering some jolts along the way. Recommended surprisingly highly for horror movie fans, it screens this Friday (1/27) and Saturday (1/28) nights in New York at the Landmark Sunshine and Troma fans take note: Wet Dreams co-star Debbie Rochon is scheduled to attend the first screening.