Directed by Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
The Theatre Bizarre is a film that shouldn’t work, but it succeeds on a grand (guignol) scale. Budgets were tight, for the most part crews and locations were not shared, and the filmmakers had complete creative freedom. Given that the directors in question are some of the most iconoclastic genre filmmakers on the scene today, The Theatre Bizarre had all the makings of a wildly inconsistent mess. After all, even anthology films have to hang together as a single consistent experience. In the end The Theatre Bizarre reinvigorates the anthology horror film genre with a thoughtful and artistic take on the format that doesn’t shirk in its graphic depictions of depravity and violence.
The first segment, “The Mother of Toads”, comes from Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil), who has been living off the grid director-wise for between ten to twenty years depending on what you consider his last film. The fact that Stanley currently lives in the French Pyrenees and is purportedly studying witchcraft and searching for the Necronomicon belies the fact that despite his fringe proclivities, his episode is actually the most standard EC Comics inspired fare of the film. But make no mistake; while the “young couple threatened in a remote location” is a familiar setup, Stanley delivers his own brand of pagan inspired horror with the Mother of Toads herself being an inspired and genuinely creepy creation. You’ll never hear bullfrogs again without feeling menaced (well, either that or aroused; Stanley’s film inspires both reactions). These fifteen minutes made me a believer: Richard Stanley is back.
Next up is “I Love You”, a title you know is devoid of treacle when it designates a segment by documentarian of the dejected Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock, Life is Hot in Cracktown). The film dissects the psyche of a man who cannot dissociate feelings of love from those of jealousy. A man who even while falling in love finds himself distrustful and paranoid. A man whose lovesick puppy dog whimperings turn rabid and who bares his teeth when love finally dies. By providing one of the more realistic and darkly nihilistic episodes of the series (though shot in a brightly lit white Berlin apartment throughout!), Giovinazzo continues his chronicling of mental collapse and easily steals the most powerful final shot of any of the films in the anthology.
The next episode, “Wet Dreams”, is the one that surprised me the most. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a lot from Tom Savini’s episode, mainly because he hasn’t directed anything of note since 1990’s Night of the Living Dead remake, and generally speaking makeup effects guys have a history of being pretty bad directors. But Savini’s episode destroyed my misplaced expectations. It has all the requisite Savini gore (limbs pulled off, buzzsaw vivisections, etc.) structured within a tightly scripted dream within a dream structure, with some light psychological themes that thankfully don’t take themselves too seriously (“I rape my mother every night…in my dreams!” barks Savini, who plays a psychoanalyst in the film). The basic premise of a philandering douchebag who dreams of being castrated (and whose dreams come true) is puerile, but at the midway point of the otherwise heavy proceedings, I found it to be the perfect splattery (cleft) palate cleanser. Count me in as wanting to see more Savini directorial efforts – especially if he keeps putting his girlfriend in naked!
The fourth episode in The Theatre Bizarre, “The Accident”, is also the most contemplative and artfully directed of the bunch. Doug Buck (Cutting Moments, Sisters) has focused his particular brand of family oriented horror on the ultimate theme: death. Specifically the moment when a child learns about death and tries to understand it. Dealing with issues of violent versus peaceful death, compassion for the dying and ultimately acceptance, Buck’s film could easily play in any arthouse festival but will please fans looking for subtle, meditative films that deal with horrific subjects, but in less bombastic ways than their more over-the-top genre cousins. Hopefully this is the movie that makes Hollywood recognize Buck’s particular talent for telling intimate, unsettling stories about ourselves.
The penultimate entry is easily the most surreal and whacked-out film of the anthology so it should come as no surprise that the madman behind “Vision Stains” is none other than Karim Hussain (Subconscious Cruelty, cinematographer on Hobo with a Shotgun). The film is a depraved superhero tale told in reverse; a young woman preys on homeless, drug-addled females, siphoning the vitreous fluid in their eyeballs and injecting it into her own pained peeper as a way of viewing their memories which she then feverishly jots down in stack upon stack of notebooks. She believes her purpose in life is to give voice to the stories of these discarded women but comes to learn that that her vocation is tainting her ability to live her own life.
The final film is directed by the man who helped put Theatre Bizarre together, Severin Films founder David Gregory (Plague Town). While Gregory is best known for his copious DVD behind-the-scenes work and documentary shorts, his entry “Sweets” is easily the most debauched of the anthology, bouncing from cheery candy colored flashbacks to the dingy vomit flecked present. The film tells the story of an unhinged dessert addicted woman and her breakup with her beau. Huh? That doesn’t even come close to describing the mad premise at the center of “Sweets”, but if you’ve ever been in a relationship where your partner changed you without you even knowing it, then you’ll have something to relate to – let’s just hope not too literally. Make sure to go to the late show of The Theatre Bizarre because after “Sweets” you’re not going to want to go for an after-movie dinner. Trust me.
Special mention also has to be given to the wraparound segment directed by Jeremy Kasten (Wizard of Gore remake) starring Udo Kier in a wonderfully demented role as a living marionette who lures a young woman into an old-timey theatre to watch the various segments of The Theatre Bizarre. Prior to each of the individual films, there is a brief tableau of cracked-face living dolls who presage the horrors to come. Unlike many wraparound segments, which often seem to strive to be just another entry in the anthology, Kasten’s unifying vision is both original and interesting in its own right but stays focused on fusing the various segments into a cohesive whole.
The Theatre Bizarre is easily one of the best horror anthology films not just recently, but in the history of the sub-genre. Each director has created his own wildly unique film, unhindered by creative restrictions, and yet the result remains unified by themes of corrupted love via either via the mundane erosions due to infidelity and sexual dissatisfaction or the more horrific and sudden cataclysms caused by death, murder, and mystical trickery.
4 1/2 out of 5
Suspiria U.K. Blu-ray Review – Argento’s Masterpiece In Stunning 4K Clarity
Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Udo Kier
Directed by Dario Argento
Distributed by CultFilms
Although the 40th anniversary of Dario Argento’s seminal giallo masterpiece Suspiria passed only last year, plans for that milestone had been underway for years. Unbeknownst to all but the most diehard fans, restorative work was ongoing for a long while, most notably under the masterful eye of Synapse’s Don May, Jr., leading up to a grand unveiling of the all-new 4K picture that had been perfected and tweaked endlessly. That version of the film toured across the country at select events, giving fans an opportunity to watch Argento’s colorful classic with a picture more vibrant and full of pop than ever before. Even the original English 4.0 audio track from 1977 was restored to its former glory. Between all of the loving care Suspiria received, as well as the wealth of Argento reissues on Blu-ray, this is a good time to be a fan of his early works.
There are, however, actually two 4K restorations that were done for Suspiria; one, by Don May Jr., while the other was performed by TLEFilms FRPS in Germany. This is the same master used for home video release in Europe and Australia. Fans have viewed and picked apart both transfers, though you would have to be one of the ultra-purists to enter that debate and engage anyone willing to discredit either image. The job done by Synapse is extraordinary and the same can also be said for the work done by TLEFilms. This release by CultFilms features the TLEFilms restoration, making it either an attractive alternative to Synapse’s (currently OOP) steelbook release or a nice supplement for fans who wish to own both 4K versions.
Suspiria has been viewed and reviewed and discussed an endless amount of times and there are no undiscussed criticisms or introspective viewpoints I am likely to offer that haven’t been made before. Argento has long been an example of style over substance and Suspiria is his most emblematic work in that regard. American Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives in Germany at a prestigious all-girls dance academy late one rainy night. Girls have mysteriously vanished from the compound in recent days, with more to follow. Suzy is coldly greeted and frequently uncomfortable during her stay. Eventually she uncovers a plot involving witchcraft and murder. The story is less thrilling than the ride, which is a kaleidoscope of horror. Argento uses every trick in his bag, from inventive camera movement to ingenious framing, and the use of colored filters to evoke a mood so many have attempted to replicate.
The real interest many will have with this review is in regard to the picture quality. As I said before, the 2.35:1 1080p image provided by TFEFilms’ exhaustive restoration work is nothing short of astounding. This looks like a film that might have been made last year, never mind over four decades ago. The image is razor sharp, exceedingly clear and completely free of blemishes, dirt, debris, scratches, fluctuations, and jitter. The picture could not appear more stable, with the contrast rock solid and coloration a thing of beauty. Primaries leap off the screen with vibrancy even longtime fans will admit is a shocking surprise. Watching this picture in action is a true treat. Detailing is exquisite, revealing every little nuance in Argento’s framing. Simply put, this is a flawless image that ranks among the upper echelon of reference-quality Blu-ray transfers.
Similarly, the audio is no slouch with options available in both English and Italian, each receiving both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track and an LPCM 2.0 option. The multi-channel track is the clear winner here, proving a deep, immersive audible experience that completely envelops the viewer in both Argento’s world and Goblin’s phenomenal score. Seriously, the soundtrack for Suspiria has never been as unsettling and overpowering as it is here, filling every corner of your home theater room with a palpable sense of dread. Subtitles are, of course, available in English.
Please note: this release is locked to Region B, meaning you must have a compatible player to watch the disc.
This release also features different bonus material from the Synapse release, with an emphasis here placed on the restoration process. Completists may want to add this disc to their collection because it not only offers up a different-but-equal a/v presentation but also a new collection of bonus features.
An audio commentary is included, provided by film critics/authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman.
“The Restoration Process” is a nearly one-hour piece that examines every step along the way in bringing Suspiria back to such stunning life. Technical talk abounds here; definitely for fans who want a glimpse into the nerdier side of making movies look pretty again.
“Argento Presents His Suspiria” is a new interview with the director, who surprisingly doesn’t seem sick to death of talking about this film yet.
“Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria” offers up critical appraisal of the film’s visual style, featuring interviews with critics, theorists, and others involved in making the film.
“Suspiria Perspectives” offers up more in-depth discussion of the film, covering both this feature and similar Italian pictures made during that era.
A DVD copy of the feature is also included. The two-disc set sits within a slick, shiny embossed slipcover with the film’s logo in metallic silver. It’s kinda sexy.
- The Restoration Process
- Argento Presents His Suspiria
- Fear at 400 Degrees: The Cine-Excess of Suspiria
- Suspiria Perspectives
- Audio Commentary
Looking better than ever before, Cult Films’ release of this giallo classic is welcomed as both a more affordable (current) alternative to the U.S. release and as a complement to it, since this edition has a slight variation in picture quality and a selection of different and insightful bonus features.
Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.
Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.
Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.
Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.
In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.
Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.
Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.
Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.
Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.
While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.
Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.
The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.
But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.
So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.
Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.
Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
- Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
- Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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