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Theatre Bizarre, The (2011)

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The Theatre BizarreStarring Guilford Adams, Elissa Dowling, James Gill, Lindsay Goranson, Udo Kier, Tom Savini, Debbie Rochon

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.

Fantasia 2011 ReviewThe 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

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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!

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Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon

Directed by Adrian Corona


I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.

Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.

Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.

Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.

If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!

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User Rating 2.92 (12 votes)
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Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form

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Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes

Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace


“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.

That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.

Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?

At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?

These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.

Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?

It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.

If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.

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User Rating 3.27 (11 votes)
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The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint

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Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones

Directed by Guillermo del Toro


“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.

The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.

The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.

Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.

The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.

While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.

Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

  • Film
4.5

Summary

The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.

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User Rating 3.67 (15 votes)
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